A Practical Guide to Mental Health Counseling

A Practical Guide to Mental Health Counseling

A Practical Guide to Mental Health Counseling

A Practical Guide to Mental Health Counseling


A practical guide that introduces readers to key concepts, practice considerations and techniques for mental health counseling.


Cynthia J. Osborn Kent State University

Mental health counseling (MHC) encompasses a wide range of services provided by a diverse group of professionals to an ever increasing consumer population in the United States today. The two fundamental and simultaneous purposes of MHC are to promote mental health and to prevent the worsening of symptoms associated with mental illness. This chapter is intended to provide an overview of MHC practices, providers, and service recipients (i.e., consumers, clients, or patients) as well as trends and current priorities in MHC. A brief history of MHC is provided and ethical and legal considerations are reviewed. Implications for the future of MHC are also considered, including preparation of MHC providers.

Clarification about terminology is necessary at the start of this chapter. Research on MHC does not always distinguish among services or providers. For example, Yu, Adams, Burns, Brindis, and Irwin (2008) studied the use of MHC among adolescents and young adults (using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, sponsored by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, an agency of the National Institutes of Health). In this study, “mental health counseling” was defined as “psychological or emotional counseling” (p. 270) without reference to specific interventions or providers. Because MHC spans many different types of services (including psychopharmacological interventions), settings (e.g., schools, pharmacy walk-in clinics), and providers (including medical doctors, such as psychiatrists), this chapter takes a broad approach to MHC, not aligning it with any discipline or professional association (e.g., the American Counseling Association, ACA), nor confining MHC to one specific type of intervention (e.g., “talk therapy”). Such an approach is consistent with the trend in (indeed, the mandate of) collaborative and interdisciplinary mental health care (see Yeager, Cutler, Svendsen, & Sills, 2013).

What is Mental Health Counseling?

To understand the practice that is mental health counseling (MHC), it is important first to discuss mental health. If MHC is the promotion of mental health, what exactly is being promoted?

Mental Health

The first U.S. Surgeon General to issue a report on mental health was Dr. David Satcher. In his mental health Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. DHHS, 1999), mental health is defined as “a state of successful performance of mental function, resulting in productive activities, fulfilling relationships with other people, and the ability to adapt to change and to cope with adversity” (p. 4). Mental health is further characterized as “indispensable to personal well-being, family and interpersonal relationships, and contribution to community and society… [because it] is the springboard of thinking and communication skills, learning, emotional growth, resilience, and selfesteem” (p. 4). Although certainly not the first definition of mental health, this non-

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