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The term mental health clinician is often used to describe social workers, mental health counselors, and marriage and family therapists. Although the exact job description and duties vary from one organization to another, substantial similarities do exist. These professionals help clients in tough situations by listening and helping them find solutions to pressing problems.
Compassion and empathy are key skills for a mental health clinician, whose clients often are in stressful situations. These include domestic violence, behavioral disorders or mental illness. Interpersonal skills and the ability to build rapport help a mental health clinician develop strong relationships and gain people’s trust. Much of what a mental health clinician does involves listening and understanding clients’ needs. Mental health clinicians typically deal with multiple clients, so they must be able to stay organized and manage their time well to provide effective service.
Helping people solve problems and providing psychological therapy are the two primary tasks of a mental health clinician. The work begins with an assessment of the individual’s situation, personal strengths and weaknesses, and the presence or absence of mental illness. The mental health clinician develops a treatment plan and sets goals with the client. The next step depends on the situation. For example, if the client is homeless, finding shelter might be the first task. If the client is mentally ill and needs medication, the mental health clinician might arrange a referral to a physician who can prescribe appropriate medication.
A mental health clinician’s secondary tasks are all related to the primary goals. She might make referrals for services such as financial support; help a client obtain health insurance; or provide direct therapy. Some mental health clinicians work with a specific population, such as students, while others work with any clients of any age and may also provide family therapy. In all cases, the mental health clinician documents her therapy and the patient’s response. She might attend case conferences if the client is being managed by a team, or send reports to other medical professionals.
How to Get There
Educational requirements for mental health clinicians differ according to the position. In some organizations, a bachelor’s degree in psychology is acceptable. Many social workers hold bachelor’s degrees, and some are also prepared at the master’s level. Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists must hold master’s degrees in their fields. All states require some sort of licensing or certification, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Clinical internships are typically required to obtain a license or certification.
Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.