How to become a mental health counselor

When you choose to become a mental health counselor, there are several different paths you can take. Each one will offer you something new and challenging, and it will depend on how you want to proceed and what you want to get out of your career as a mental health counselor as to which path you are going to go down.

As there are so many options available to you once you have gained your important qualifications, it could seem overwhelming if you don’t know precisely what you are looking for. You won’t want to make a mistake; however, as although you can always change your mind, it would be a shame to waste any time on the wrong (for you) area of mental health.

If you are ready to begin your journey in helping people deal with their mental health issues, here are some of the ways you can do it. Some of these specialties will require additional study whereas others require a general qualification, so once you know which it is you want to do, make sure you also know what the next steps are for you to take.


Although perhaps the broadest of the options you can take once you know how to become a mental health counselor, counseling is indeed a branch of therapy by itself. It is a form of talking therapy which people find extremely useful when they are trying to deal with their emotional issues. For those with anxiety, stress, or depression, talking therapy with someone who has learned how to become a mental health counselor is exactly the right choice.

It’s true that the word ‘counseling’ can be used as an umbrella term to cover all forms of therapy, but it can also be a lot more specific.

As well as the above broad conditions we have mentioned regarding therapy, and how it can help, a mental health counselor can also help with conditions that not everyone is going to consider to be a mental health disorder – this is because the general understanding of mental health is lacking in detail. This is perfectly normal; after all, if you’re not a counselor and you haven’t learned specifically how to become a mental health counselor, then there is no reason to understand how this therapy works in minute detail.

Yet a talking therapist can assist with eating disorders, for example. They can also work with physical issues which are causing an emotional response, such as infertility or a cancer diagnosis. Or perhaps there has been a significant life event that has caused challenges; these events are often things such as grief, stress from work, a divorce, and more.

In particular, therapists may also be asked to help those who are suffering from problems with their identity or with extremely difficult emotions such as those resulting in anger issues or low self-esteem.

For a therapist who works in this way, each day is going to be a very different one to the day before since they work with such a wide range of issues and people. This can be wonderful for some of those who choose to learn how to become a mental health counselor, and if you don’t like routine and enjoy problem-solving, this could be the branch of counseling that works best for you.

What’s even better about talking therapy is that it doesn’t have to be done face to face, which is particularly important at the moment. You can do it over the phone, or via video call if that works better. So it is extremely flexible and can offer you a wonderful work-life balance if you go into practice for yourself.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Mental health counselor

When you learn how to become a mental health counselor, cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, might not be something that immediately comes to mind as a potential career path. However, it is becoming increasingly popular, and if you want to run your own practice this option can be one that gains you a number of clients quickly.

CBT is a therapy that is particularly effective when used to treat low mood disorders and anxiety. These disorders include:

The ideal behind CBD therapy, for those who are keen to know how to become a mental health counselor and help others in the best way possible, is that someone’s physical self and sensations are connected to their thoughts and feelings which, in turn, makes them behave in a certain way and do certain things. In other words, your actions are directly impacted by the way you think about a certain situation.

This is an idea that has been around for a while now – we’re often told to think more positively about things and life in general in order to get the most out of it. This has been taken one step further and is now a recognized form of therapy that people get a lot out of, including the counselors themselves.

The way that a mental health counselor is able to help their patients using CBT is to give them the tools they need to prevent negative thinking patterns before they can take hold. If the patient can change the way they think about something and turn their negative thoughts into positive ones, their behavior will change too, and rather than being stressed or anxious about something, they can be excited or happy.

These thought process changes won’t change quickly, and this is where a mental health counselor will be needed. As a therapist, it is your job to help your patients understand how to turn their thoughts around and to give them hints and tips so they can do it when the need arises. This will take time, and coming to you for regular sessions is sure to be of benefit to the patient.

Existential Therapy

Mental health counselor

Existential therapy sounds rather strange and potentially not something that those learning how to become a mental health counselor are going to know that much about or want to be involved in. However, existential therapy is incredibly useful and not as complicated as you might think initially despite its grand name. Its main aim is to address the patient’s concerns about their life and the world in general and to deal with inner conflict in a healthy way.

Existential concerns are those that revolve around the idea that there is no point in life. This is not the same as suicidal thoughts necessarily, although suicide might indeed be something the patient has at least considered, but instead tends to be focused on the patient not being able to enjoy what they have in life or take up opportunities offered to them, as they feel there is no point to any of it.

Someone going through an existential crisis will be deeply troubled, and because there are no answers to their deepest questions and concerns, the problem can be a difficult one to focus on and solve. They might be worried about how quickly time is passing, for example, or they might wonder why they have to ‘go through the motions’ of having a job, family, and so on when life is meaningless.

When someone is going through an existential crisis, other mental health problems can occur, including:

  • Depression
  • Being overwhelmed and stressed
  • Anxiety
  • Obsessive behaviors
  • Loneliness
  • Isolation
  • Lack of any energy or motivation to do anything to change the situation

It doesn’t have to be something huge that causes this kind of problem, although it will always seem big to the person who is suffering. Reasons for an existential crisis will include changing careers or jobs, bereavement, being diagnosed with a severe illness (whether or not it is terminal), going through a trauma, reaching a milestone in life such as a significant age (eg 40, 50, or 60), divorce, marriage, and having children.

Family Therapy

When you start to learn how to become a mental health counselor, the choice as to which branch of counseling you will go into may be a result of experiences you have had in the past. This could indeed be the reason behind choosing to work in family therapy for some people.

How to become a mental health counselorIn family therapy, the entire family unit is looked at and discussed, rather than the individual. This can be enlightening in terms of looking at the family dynamic and each relationship within it. It can be helpful since it will allow other family members to understand what everyone else in the unit is going through and why they behave in the way they do. Without a good mental health counselor to guide them, some families will never truly get to understand one another and this can cause strain. It might even cause the breakup of the relationship – whether that is parents divorcing or children not wanting to share their lives with their parents anymore, and so on – potentially irrevocably.

Those needing family therapy will be families that have been through some kind of trauma together, such as losing one of their number, or someone being diagnosed with a life-threatening condition. It can be useful in cases of addiction and mental illness. No matter what is happening, if a family can use therapy to become stronger together, everyone benefits in the long term.

Family therapy can be extremely beneficial for those who undertake it and having a good therapist who understands not only how to become a mental health counselor, but how to become a specific family therapist is crucial.

The entire purpose of family therapy is to collect everyone’s complex ideas, emotions, and thoughts and to set them out so everyone can have a better understanding of the situation.

Art Therapy

Art is a great way to explore feelings and emotions, so it is clearly going to become more and more important in terms of therapy. If you have studied how to become a mental health counselor and you want to take things one step further and specialize, art therapy can be the ideal path.

How to become a mental health counselor

You don’t personally need to be good at art or have any artistic talent because that is not the focus of this kind of therapy. You should, however, have an interest in art, and of course how it relates to the human mind, emotions, and behavior.

Art therapy is something that some individuals find much easier to cope with than other forms of talking therapy, for example. They can create their art, perhaps talking at the same time, and let their emotions out in that way, rather than having to actually speak the words. Humans can often have problems when it comes to defining emotions and feelings, and that can mean that although therapy would work perfectly for them, they would be unable to adequately express how they feel, and therefore the help they are offered might not be right, or might not be enough.

In art therapy, those confusing, upsetting emotions can be channeled into something more productive that allows those thoughts to be articulated in a different way. As a mental health counselor, your task is to delve deeper into this art and work out what it means so you can truly help the patient. This is a highly specialized skill, but one that, if done correctly, can yield amazing results.


There are a great number of different paths you can take once you know the basics of how to become a mental health counselor. The choice you make will often require additional study and potentially more qualifications, and this is why it is crucial to choose wisely. Although you can always change your mind and study something else, choosing well in the first instance will help you be much more comfortable and confident in the help you are offering your patients.

Take the time to look at the many different counseling forms available, not all of which are listed in this article. You should look for one that suits your personality and abilities as well as one that you feel will help the most people.