Health Care Careers - Mental health counselor
Patient advocacy is a relatively new field in health care. Patient advocates are people who help patients and their families when patients believe there are problems with the quality of health care they are receiving. When patients feel they have been treated poorly, patient advocates will meet with them and listen to their concerns. Patient advocates may then speak with the health services administrators to discuss a solution to the problem.
The job of a patient advocate is not to determine whether an actual problem exists. Rather, patient advocates provide a forum for patients to express their concerns. Sometimes, patient advocates solve problems just by listening to the patients. Other times, patient advocates work with health services administrators to develop a resolution to the problem.
Patient advocates are also responsible for collecting information regarding patient problems and writing reports that can be used to make improvements to the health care facility. By working with patients and health services administrators, patient advocates help both sides understand each other better. By helping patients with their problems, patient advocates can prevent possible lawsuits against their health care facility. Sometimes, a change in policy will result from the work of patient advocates.
Since it is a new field, there are no educational requirements for patient advocates. It is possible to work in the field with a high school diploma or an associate's degree (degree granted from two-year college institutions). Some patient advocates enter the field with on-the-job training or by volunteering. However, it is recommended to earn a bachelor's degree. The most important thing for those who wish to pursue a career as a patient advocate is to have experience working in a hospital or another type of health care facility.
Patient advocates must be compassionate and sympathetic to patients who are often angry or frustrated with the way they've been treated. This requires that patient advocates have good communication skills and like working with people.
Mental health counselors help people work through problems in their lives and improve their overall mental health. They counsel patients with problems associated with most areas of life, including family, career, or school, as well as poor self-esteem, abuse, suicidal tendencies, drug and alcohol addiction, or stress. Patients may vary in age from small children to the elderly.
Most mental health counselors specialize in certain age groups, such as adolescents or adults, or they may specialize in areas, such as abuse or marriage. Mental health counselors can provide individual, group, or family counseling. They may work in private practice or at community or social services agencies, drug rehabilitation centers, group homes, health maintenance organizations, mental health clinics, prisons, or schools.
During a session, a mental health counselor talks with a patient about any concerns that the patient may have. This may sound easy, but it can be hard since many people find it hard to talk about their feelings. It is the responsibility of the counselor to make the patient feel comfortable and to keep a dialogue going between them. A counselor must also be very patient for it may take a long time for a person to open up or to want to make life-changes.
Based on the patient's problems or concerns, a mental health counselor will develop a treatment plan for the patient. During treatment the counselor will keep records of the patient's progress. The goal in mental health counseling is to have a patient work through problems and regain control of his or her life. Mental health counseling also places emphasis on preventive care; therefore, counselors try to develop ways to teach people about maintaining good mental health.
Training to Be a Mental Health Counselor
To work as a mental health counselor, a person is required to obtain a master's degree (a college degree that ranks above a four-year bachelor's degree) in counselor education. Mental health counseling programs are accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). To graduate from an accredited program, a person must successfully complete 48 to 60 semester hours of course work as well as gain a certain amount of practical experience. Doctoral programs (programs that grant degrees beyond the master's degree level) are also available, which is a good foundation for those interested in conducting research.
The National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) offers certification to all counselors, whether their particular state requires certification or not. To be certified by the NBCC, a person must have graduated from an accredited master's program, practice as a counselor in a supervised, professional setting for two years, and pass the certification exam given by the NBCC called the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification.