By the Clinical Mental Health Counseling Faculty at Hodges University
You have earned your clinical mental health counseling degree and you are ready to begin working and assisting those who need help, but where do you start? Do you know what options are available to you? As a clinical mental health counselor, there are a vast number of career options available to you.
You may not intentionally seek to work with issues involving substance abuse and addiction; however, you may find that even your “typical” client will have some connection to these issues. Depending on the severity of the substance usage, counselors who wish to work more consistently with substance use populations can find career opportunities in either outpatient or inpatient settings.
- Outpatient: The outpatient setting offers both intensive outpatient (IOP) and partial hospitalization (PHP) treatment programs. Each program varies in the number of days per week and length of treatment per day, as well as program length. Services are provided through hospitals, community mental health centers and specialized treatment centers.
- Inpatient: Treatment may require a medical detoxification period depending on the needs of the client. Inpatient treatment may last from 28 to more than 90 days depending on the program and the needs of the client.
In each setting, you may provide both individual and group counseling to clients, as well as incorporate families into the sessions. As a counselor, you may also have opportunities to work with populations ranging in age from adolescence to seniors.
Community Mental Health Outpatient
While seeking full licensure, this may be the typical setting where you start your career. These outpatient settings are good for generalized exposure to many different presenting issues. They can also help you, as a new counselor, define your focus area for specialization as you gain career experience. The clientele served in community mental health outpatient settings range from children to adults and tend to have more severe mental health symptoms and/or substance abuse issues. Many clients in these settings may be experiencing legal issues or be on probation, have financial difficulties, may be homeless or may have other systemic difficulties for which counselors can provide support. Counselors working in these settings may also provide crisis intervention, conduct suicide assessments and coordinate care for clients released from inpatient settings/hospitalization.
You can find positions in palliative care settings or other hospital-based settings such as cancer centers, providing support to address the mental health needs of patients coping with chronic or terminal illness. You can also work in settings such as hospice to provide grief counseling to family members during and after the loss of a loved one. Services often include individual, family or group counseling services. Support groups and holistic care services are common within medical settings such as cancer centers. These settings often provide pastoral counseling services, integrating spirituality and psychology in therapy for clients.
Progressive employers realize their workforce is best able to achieve the company mission when employees are healthy and fulfilled. Originally developed to intervene with substance abuse problems affecting worker effectiveness in companies, Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) have expanded to provide a full range of assessment and individual, family and group counseling, as well as efficient referrals for those issues best addressed outside of the EAP. As an EAP counselor, you will provide psycho-education in companies and consultation services to employers for a range of issues from drug testing policies to how to deal with a difficult employee.
Inpatient Mental Health Services
Innovations in medical treatments led to a de-institutionalization of our system for caring for mentally ill persons who are not stable enough to live directly in society.
Medications and other interventions have led to much more rapid stabilization of the individual’s crisis and now allow most mentally ill persons the ability to live their lives within the community instead of institutionalized. Psychiatric hospitalization now serves a rapid, short-term stabilization function in order to facilitate fast return to the community and continuing services in community mental health centers. To work in this fast-paced environment, you will provide assessment and crisis intervention services to the patient and his/her family to enhance stabilization and a quick return to the community.
If you envision yourself working in private practice, you may work as a sole counselor or in a group of practicing counselors. These counselors may serve a variety of clientele, from children to adults and provide individual, group, family or couples counseling sessions. As a private practice counselor, you will more than likely establish a counseling specialty and may group together with counselors who have similar or complimentary specializations. It is essential these counselors develop as entrepreneurs in order to market themselves and manage the business aspects of the private practice.
The majority of school counselors do not have the time or opportunity to provide mental health counseling to students. Often, nonprofit organizations employ individuals who can provide counseling services to schools in order to deliver mental health counseling to students. As a school-based counselor, you may provide weekly, bi-weekly or even monthly counseling to students who are identified as at-risk or in need of additional support. You may also act as a bridge between school services and community mental health or private practice support, providing needed referrals to students and their families.