Career as Mental Health Counsellor - Making sense of the world around and within
Updated on Feb 26, 2018 - 4:03 p.m. IST by Triti Zalka

Career as a mental health counsellor lets you explore thoughts, emotions and behaviours to help people make sense of the world around them and within them. How to make a career as a mental health counsellor? Read the complete article to know more about career as a mental health counsellor. It’s no secret that stress has become a silent yet serious companion in  many people’s lives today. Whether it is about work, money, relationships, health or lifestyle -- stress is sadly but surely a part of modern life. A lot of the time, people resolve these problems on their own. In other cases, it is invariably taken care of by the support and advice of family members, friends, elders or teachers. Then there are trained counsellors. When the world looks gloomy, a counsellor is the one who can help guide people to the light at the end of the tunnel.

It is not only in times of stress that an individual turns to a counsellor. For many, counselling is simply a way to explore their thoughts and emotions.

Dr. SantoshDr. Santosh “Counsellors are like stilts. They’re very useful when people need it. When a person is not feeling well psychologically, is in stress, or is feeling emotionally drained, depressed, upset, or has lifestyle-related problems like substance-use, drinking, tobacco, drugs, relationship problems, a counsellor can help,” says Dr. Santosh K. Chaturvedi, Dean of Behavioural Psychology and Professor of Psychiatry, National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences, Bangalore.


Mental health -- the need of the hour

Mental health has long since been stigmatised. Especially in countries like India where it was only talked of in whispers, behind closed doors, if ever. Today, the world has opened up and embraced the need to talk about mental health. “There are 500 patients in the OPD at NIMHANS today, and none of them is there against his will,” beams Dr. Chaturvedi on a mid-week afternoon. His patients come from all backgrounds—from upper class, educated people, engineers, lawyers and doctors to the common man. “80% of people we see are below poverty line,” he adds. This simple statistic measures the magnitudes of change in the perception of mental health in the Indian context. Everyone needs it, and finally, more and more people are seeking it.


Who is a Mental Health Counsellor?

Being a human being means having complex thoughts and emotions. Counsellors help people understand these and make sense of the world.

“The world is made up of seven billion people with the power to make or break society. So perhaps the most important topic you could ever study is these people. Psychology is the science of the most complex machine on this planet, the mind,” believes Yusra Mukim Shaikh, a student of Psychology and an aspiring to make career as a mental health counsellor. Bringing stability and clarity to the mind is at the core of counselling.

How does a counsellor do this? Counselling is often called ‘talking therapy’. This means providing an open, trusting, and confidential environment to people who are experiencing different kinds of personal difficulties.

The goal of counselling is to help clients overcome their troubles, get on with their lives and make constructive changes in their lives, perceptions and behaviours.

A counsellor listens and reflects, gives advice and suggestions, but never makes decisions for a client. Instead, a counsellor simply paves the way for people to arrive at their own understandings and realisations.

AyeshaAyesha “As a counsellor, you come across new challenges daily where both the logical and emotional aspects of your brain are put to a test. Today, society is going through major lifestyle changes that trigger the need for counselling as people usually succumb to these pressures. Being a guiding force and touching people’s lives is a victory in itself,” says Ayesha Bhombal, a school counsellor at Lodha World School at Thane, Mumbai.


Qualities of a good Mental Health Counsellor

“Counsellors should be able to listen, look into a person’s eyes, encourage, show active listening, show interest, establish a good rapport, a relationship that says I am with you, I can empathise with you. They should allow a person to feel comfortable to show his emotions. They should be able to cry, laugh, be angry, in a safe and protected environment. 75% of counselling is effective with this much. And of course, they have to have knowledge,” says Dr. Chaturvedi, who has a significantly vast experience and has been in the field for over forty years.


Where can a Mental Health Counsellor find work?

Anywhere, everywhere is the simple answer for those who wish to make career as a mental health counsellor. Hospitals and other healthcare settings, educational institutions, children’s shelters, even industries and workplaces look for qualified counsellors. As the world becomes more sensitised towards the needs of people, a counsellor can find opportunities in many sectors. Academia is a sector where a lot of qualified counsellors are in high demand.

As the focus on mental health grows, more and more institutions are offering courses in psychology and counselling.

The requirement for those wishing to pursue career as a mental health counsellor in schools is growing rapidly today. “I took psychology because I would never want anyone to feel as alone and as isolated as I did back when I was a teenager. If I can make a difference, even a small one, I’d like to do it,” believes Shaikh. “Counselling becomes important because things are so fuzzy at this time for kids, they are not able to make sense of themselves in terms of what used to be a regular way of forming identities. Today, this is more difficult because of the kind of realities that are not permanent anymore. Understanding their realities from their point of view is something we need to be talking about. A lot of people negate their realities. You have to support them and validate them,” believes Hargun Gujral, a behavioural counsellor at Step by Step School, Noida. The inclusive school sees many students with special needs or learning disabilities. “Where there’s an educational disability or difficulty, we figure out how to help them cope with their classes. There are also children with severe disabilities, so we work on the functional level in terms of skill-building for daily living, with respect to communication, language, etc. which prepares them to function in a holistic manner,” she adds. “Workspace is the main area where counselling is in great demand. We get a lot of demand. And not just from big companies, but industries like MICRO, KSRTC, Indian Railways, CRPF, Indian Army. They are all full of stress and none of them has too many counsellors,” says Dr. Chaturvedi. HR departments at various private and public offices are also realising the benefit of having a counsellor in the team.


Self-employment to make a career as a Mental Health Counsellor

Those choosing career as a mental health counsellor can go on to become successfully self-employed and start their own practices. This works for people with experience and a good network. With practice, a counsellor can foster trust and credibility in the industry. Career as a mental health counsellor can also find employment in private or public settings, and utilise their personal time by volunteering or in their own part-time enterprises. Counsellors can expect to start with an income of around two to three lakhs per annum. According to Dr. Chaturvedi, counsellors with Master’s degrees or above can earn around Rs.75,000 per month. As you gain experience and credibility over the years, there is a lot more scope for growth.


Nature of the job and core responsibilities of a Mental Health Counsellor

First and foremost, a counsellor has to create a comfortable and safe environment where clients can feel free to express themselves. Making a plan for assessment, intervention and follow-ups helps in going about therapy in a structured manner. This includes creating a contract that outlines the sessions. By actively listening to and establishing a relationship of trust, a counsellor can encourage and inspire people to talk about what’s bothering them. It’s important to maintain a record of each session to keep track of a client’s progress. This can help reiterate and reflect their concerns in a subjective way. Though a counsellor should accept what a client confides in him, it’s equally important to challenge them in case of any inconsistencies. According to Dr. Chaturvedi, the country needs more psychologists than psychiatrists. Of course, in the case of serious psychological disorders where medication is necessary, a counsellor should refer a client to a psychiatrist. At the same time, a lot of people get more satisfaction from psychological intervention done by a counsellor.

A counsellor can make an impact in the lives of many people. Even people with medical disorders like cancer, diabetes or cardiac disease can benefit from the intervention of a counsellor. People going through loss, grief and bereavement can also find comfort in counselling. Counsellors help victims of bullying and abuse overcome their experiences. At the end of the day, a counsellor sees clients from all walks of life.

A counsellor spends many hours of the day with different clients going through very different things. Staying alert, active and energetic throughout is a must.


Select colleges to study psychology

Scope of studies and jobs abroad for a Mental Health Counsellor

“The scope for studies abroad is tremendous. It is much more formal, structured. Teaching methods are very different. Most places have very little didactic teaching. Counselling cannot be taught by didactic teaching. It has to happen through role-plays, being in the field, seeing videos, talking, it has to be interactive,” believes Dr. Chaturvedi.

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