What are the qualities needed to be a mental health counselor?

The impact of mental health issues is becoming increasingly recognized in the United States. Those who are interested in this career may be wondering what qualities are required to be a successful mental health counselor. We are going to answer that question over the course of this article, as well as look at the role of a mental health counselor and explain how one can get there by following an accredited program of study.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in five adults in the United States is living with a mental illness. It is clear that the profession of mental health counselor is much needed and will continue to be so in the future. This role is a demanding one yet offers a myriad of rewards in terms of job satisfaction.

Read on to learn more about this interesting and varied career and what it takes to make a successful mental health counselor.

What does a mental health counselor do?

Mental health counselors help people with mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, substance use disorders, eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder. They employ a variety of tools and techniques to treat their clients, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps people understand their thinking patterns and adopt more positive ones, and psychodynamic therapy, which examines the link between emotions and personal relationships.

The ultimate aim of a mental health counselor is to empower their clients to recognize their thoughts, feelings and behaviors, understand triggers and learn tools and techniques to solve problems and live a fulfilled and emotionally healthy life.

What qualities are needed to be a mental health counselor?

Working as a mental health counselor has many challenges, but these are offset by its rewards, seeing clients reach a place of emotional balance and empowerment. To help clients achieve this end, a mental health counselor must draw on a number of positive attributes — let’s take a look at what these include.

Interpersonal skills

Strong interpersonal skills, which make up ‘therapeutic rapport’ or the ability of a counselor to connect with a client, are essential in this role.

Interpersonal skills include understanding the client’s perspective, respecting their experience and perception of it as valid and creating a safe environment in which they can share some of their most intimate thoughts and feelings.

Listening skills

Good listening skills include the practice of ‘active listening.’ This is not only hearing what clients are saying but understanding and verifying the information they are given.

Active listening requires the counselor to allow their clients to speak without interruptions, show that they are engaged with what they are saying by using positive body language and affirmations and ask questions to ensure they have understood.

While many mental health counselors are naturally good listeners, the best will understand that they can always improve and refine their listening skills.


This attribute is an essential one when it comes to helping clients deal with upsetting or negative experiences.

Empathy is not simply feeling sad or concerned for someone but truly putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and imagining how certain situations and experiences may affect them on a variety of levels.

Showing empathy helps foster an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect, which is essential to a positive counseling experience.


A great mental health counselor will not rely on a ‘one size fits all’ approach. They will understand that different strategies suit different clients and will draw on their creativity and problem-solving skills to find the one that works best.

This could mean that they search out a different way of approaching a particular issue or seek advice from colleagues and mentors to find the best solution for their client.

They will not be afraid to say that they have never come across a particular situation before but will instead relish the challenge of finding a great technique to help their clients overcome their unique issues.

Lack of judgment

Clients entrust their mental health counselor with their most private thoughts, feelings and experiences. Only by feeling uninhibited and unjudged can a client find healing and understanding in their sessions.

Keeping their personal perspective and experience of life out of the counseling session is essential for the mental health counselor to be able to provide the very best service to their clients.

Train as a mental health counselor

Those who think they have the personal attributes to work as a mental health counselor and are looking for a rewarding career helping others reach their wellbeing goals, here is how to achieve the dream.

A bachelor’s degree in any field enables one to train as a mental health counselor with certain postgraduate programs. For example, Online Mental Health Counseling Master’s programs can prepare students for this fulfilling career without having to travel to campus — they are a popular way of gaining the skills needed while continuing with existing commitments. The online Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling offered by the American International College is an ideal pathway into this career.

Students can study this course 100% online, making it an ideal choice for anyone who already has a busy schedule in terms of professional or other commitments. As well as learning about the theory side of mental health counseling, students also get the chance to carry out practicum hours and placements near them so they can translate what they have learned into real-life scenarios. Accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), this program prepares a student for licensure as a mental health counselor, opening doors to a satisfying career.

A career full of rewards

It takes a combination of positive personal attributes and specific training to become a good mental health counselor. This is a rewarding career, which can take people in many different directions, helping them achieve their full potential and live life in an emotionally healthy and balanced manner.

For those to whom this fascinating career appeals, be sure to check out the online Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling delivered by the American International College. This program will allow students the freedom to study from a setting of their choice and enjoy practical experience close to home, setting them on a career pathway that will bring many benefits and rewards.