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Best evidence-based practices for mental health counselors

Mental health counseling is an integral part of the mental healthcare system and necessary for the health and well-being of communities. Using sound practices and principles and considering all aspects of a patient’s health and emotional well-being is the main objective of adequate mental health counselors.

The importance of evidence-based practices

Evidence-based practices are ideal because they are based on real-life research, patient characteristics, and the personal experience of the counselor. Diagnosis and decisions are based on known facts and information from patients, their doctors, and other parties.

Using proven techniques increases the odds of positive patient outcomes and helps patients begin to make positive changes faster.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

One of the most widely used and effective forms of therapy is cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. This technique is used to treat a wide range of mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.

CBT focuses on analyzing and changing thought patterns and behavior to maximize the chances of long-term and lasting success for the patient.

The basis of CBT is the theory that unhelpful thoughts and learned patterns of behavior are responsible for many of the symptoms of mental illness and substance abuse.

Using CBT, a mental health counselor asks questions that help them better understand the patient’s thinking patterns and motivations so they can help them break these patterns and use their motivations in a healthy and positive way.

Mental health counselors help patients find a way to cope with challenges by facing them and finding solutions instead of avoiding them. Of course, there are exceptions where coping mechanisms work better. Chronic mental health issues often mean a combination of facing fears and learning how to cope at times. Some mental health issues cannot be solved by therapy alone. Schizophrenia is an example of a condition where there is a physical issue causing the mental illness.

Learning methods to relax and stay calm is harder for some people than others. Regardless of the mental health issue at hand, taking time to relax and calm down can be helpful. When you are calmer, you are more likely to make decisions based on rational thoughts instead of following harmful impulses.

Although the past has to be considered on some level, CBT concentrates on the current events and challenges a patient is going through. Focusing on the present helps solve the immediate issues so a patient is in a good mental state to heal and learn to cope with past traumas and issues.


Treating mental health disorders may involve collaboration with a variety of specialists, including medical doctors, psychiatrists, social service agencies, and other parties. Mental health must be approached on an individual basis; some people may need medication, inpatient substance abuse treatment, and other approaches.

Mental health is related to physical health, too. Poor mental health or substance abuse issues can lead to medical conditions. Likewise, physical health conditions can lead to mental health disorders. For example, losing mobility or finding out you have a chronic disease or condition can be difficult to accept and lead to feelings of anxiety or depression.

Collaboration allows professionals to make sure that treatments and plans benefit one another rather than causing conflicts and other problems.

Mindfulness and holistic methods

By applying mindfulness to evidence-based mental healthcare, counselors can reach more accurate and comprehensive diagnoses from the very beginning. Getting to know an individual patient well can help to uncover thoughts, behaviors, and experiences that help mental health counselors and nurses when they are creating a customized treatment plan and recommendations for the patient.

By embracing mindfulness concepts, mental health counselors can incorporate holistic methods for overcoming the trauma of mental illness.  This may include suggesting lifestyle changes related to diet, exercise, or hobbies.

Counselor training is constantly evolving as needs change and more discoveries are made in the field of medicine and mental healthcare. In addition, different pressures and societal needs and concepts change over time, which means that treatments and care have to evolve with them.

During clinical hours, mindfulness is a great concept to emphasize when approaching a patient. Gaining experience interacting with and treating patients from many different backgrounds with a variety of problems and challenges will make a counselor more well-rounded so they are better prepared for any patient who walks through the door of their facility.

Behavior therapy

This therapy method focuses on changing behaviors that harm mental health and overall happiness.

For example, suppose someone is suffering from depression or anxiety. In that case, one of the warning signs that they need help is withdrawing from their friends, family, or activities that are usually really important or enjoyable to them.

A patient may be asked to keep a journal of what they do daily so it can be evaluated and assessed to see how much enjoyment they gain throughout the day. If they are not doing anything just for them, a mental health counselor may help them create a schedule that ensures they have more positive experiences.

Modifying behaviors by replacing them with healthier choices is important to people’s long-term mental health outcomes. Long-standing patterns of behavior can be difficult to change. It may be necessary to make some major changes to people’s lifestyles and habits to break free from these patterns.

For example, changing your support network and friends is extremely difficult if you have known them for a long time, but if they are contributing to poor behavioral choices, that may be the best option.

The importance of empowering patients and their families

Feeling that you have some control over your mental health is empowering. Many patients enter counseling and therapy with feelings of hopelessness that can be hard to overcome. Mental health counselors can help patients create plans for positive changes that involve a series of small steps rather than a lot of large ones. Setting small goals and achieving these milestones helps patients gain confidence and feel empowered.

A sense of empowerment and control can inspire patients to try harder and surpass their milestones with ease.

Involving family members can be helpful because having a support network improves patient outcomes. Family members can help mental health patients focus on positive activities by spending time with them or helping with some daily tasks as needed.

Establishing trust and respect 

Asking good questions is important when it comes to establishing trust. Open-ended questions that let a patient lead the conversation are helpful during initial appointments. Plenty of patients have a hard time opening up to a counselor in the beginning, so it is essential to do what it takes to establish trust and make a patient feel comfortable opening up.

Being clear that you are not there to be judgmental but to help them is critical. Mental health and substance abuse carries a lot of stigmas in society, so feelings of shame and difficulty admitting problems is not unusual.

Establishing trust can take longer for some patients than others, no matter what method is used. A good mental health counselor knows how far to push a patient without making them too uncomfortable.

Letting patients know that they are free to change the subject or take a minute to ground themselves before proceeding during difficult sessions may be helpful.

Encouraging continued growth and education

It is important for any social worker or mental health professional to keep up with current methods and trends in their field. Using evidence-based care encourages mental health counselors to read journals, attend seminars, and gain additional certifications and credentials.

Networking with other mental health and social workers can help counselors learn about current happenings and gain knowledge from the experience of their colleagues.

Family therapy

Involving multiple family members or entire families in counseling is sometimes necessary when a mental health issue is having ripple effects or a family has experienced trauma together.

There are many reasons a family might seek counseling. Problems at work or school, being victims of crime or violence, and substance abuse are common reasons people may need therapy.

Families may seek counseling if they are somewhat removed from a trauma but still receiving attention that is unwanted or harmful. Consider what may happen when someone has an aunt or uncle who is involved in something nefarious and widely publicized. Families of criminals are often subject to judgment and ridicule, even if they do not really know the person who committed the crime.

When families have a hard time communicating or spending time together without conflict, counseling can help them have a neutral place to express their concerns and issues so they can be worked through without major hostility or fear.

The importance of interventions

Sometimes someone needs a bit of help to realize they have a problem or to finally face it. Admitting to a problem and making a plan to start to overcome it is a major milestone in itself.

Family members, including parents and spouses, may feel that an intervention is needed if they have approached someone about their problem and been met with resistance or if a person has relapsed into harmful behaviors.

Mental health counselors can help facilitate and ensure that interventions are conducted in a way that is more likely to work. Interventions must be well planned and conducted in a way that does not make the patient feel like they are being ganged up on.

An intervention should include making sure the patient feels loved and supported in every way possible. They need to feel that the intervention is coming from a place of caring and is not just a method for pushing the problem aside.

Making sure that there is a plan that everyone is aware of before the intervention occurs is very important. Creating a list of possible solutions and resources is critical. For example, if someone needs help with substance abuse, they need to know what outpatient and inpatient resources are available and what can be done to ensure they receive the care they need.

There is a high demand for mental health counselors 

Social service is the broad industry that mental health counselors work within. If an individual is considering a career in social work, mental health counseling may be one of the best social services jobs to pursue. American International College offers an online Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling degree program that prepares students to be skilled and efficient mental health professionals, equipped to help their patients. Classes are conducted entirely online, although students will still gain practical experience by completing a clinical placement working under a licensed counselor in their area.

American International College’s MA program includes classes in trauma care, crisis intervention, and multicultural counseling, which means counselors are prepared to offer a high level of care to people from a variety of backgrounds

Evidence-based mental health methods improve the world around us

Good mental healthcare should be available to everyone who needs it. Using evidence-based care methods enables professionals to treat more patients and significantly improves patient outcomes.

Mental health counselors help save lives by providing counseling and care to help people overcome life-threatening mental health and substance abuse issues.

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