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5 Biggest Challenges for Licensed Mental Health Counselors

Mental health counseling is a challenging yet rewarding career. Its practitioners enjoy strong job security and the satisfaction of helping people overcome their struggles in life. However, as with any career, there are challenges as a licensed mental health counselor along the way. The following five represent some of the most common.

1. Counseling Reluctant Patients

You might occasionally work with someone who isn’t willing to fully open up. That hesitance could stem from shyness, embarrassment, guilt, or skepticism about counseling. Also, some young people whose parents or guardians pushed them into getting professional help might be displaying rebelliousness. In any event, without enough information, it can be challenging for a licensed mental health counselor to accurately address certain issues. Plus, without enough dialogue going on, it’s hard to build a rapport.

2. Putting Personal Judgments Aside

Counselors are human beings, of course. Thus, they come from all kinds of backgrounds, and they hold a wide variety of religious values, political stances, ideas about parenting, and so on. All of those forces can shape the way you view your patients’ situations. However, it’s vital to assess people’s circumstances on their own terms. That is, you must respect your clients’ points of view, cultural norms, and religious beliefs. You can’t just thrust your beliefs on them, which can be tough at times.

3. Setting Relationship Limits

It’s important to set guidelines with patients to ensure that your association remains strictly professional. But coming up with and adhering to those regulations isn’t always easy. For example, you might have a rule against physical contact in the office. However, if a patient is crying uncontrollably, your instinct might be to hug him or her. Similarly, when ― if ever ― will you exchange text messages with patients? Should you reserve that form of communication for emergencies?

4. Dealing with a Disjointed System

Unfortunately, in the U.S. and many other countries, there’s no streamlined, consistent set of services for people who need mental health care. Schools, the criminal justice system, various substance abuse programs, and hospitals all offer different kinds of therapy with different standards. As a result, you could counsel a patient who’s had plenty of conflicting advice and many types of treatment over the years. Thus, it might be hard for him or her to trust you.

5. Needing a Counselor Yourself

Counselors sometimes neglect their own mental health needs. But they can suffer from depression, anxiety, and fatigue just like anyone else. Indeed, hearing patients tell heartwrenching stories can be truly painful. And if you often feel sad or listless, it can negatively affect the quality of your work. Therefore, never rule out the idea of joining a support group or finding someone with whom you can discuss your feelings. Doing so is often uplifting, and it could help you attend to your patients with renewed purpose and empathy.

Finally, if you really want to be a licensed counselor, don’t let any of these challenges deter you. In time, you’ll find your own idiosyncratic ways of addressing them, and you can always seek advice from more experienced counselors. In the end, the joys of  profession surely outweigh the challenges of licensed mental health counseling.