Mental Health Counseling: Definition & Techniques

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  • 0:06 Mental Health Counseling
  • 2:28 Disorders & Diagnosis
  • 4:16 Prevention
  • 6:11 Treatment Options
  • 7:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

This lesson explores areas dealing with patients, mental health settings, and preventative measures that counselors can take when doing mental health counseling.

Mental Health Counseling

Your brain consists of 1-2 billion neurons (billion with a 'b'), each with 5-10,000 connections. That makes your brain, which weighs 2-4 pounds, massively interconnected. In fact, these are just estimates because trying to count these individual cells in your brain is really difficult. With all of these neurons and connections working together, the convergent result is you. Your personality, your thoughts, your memories, and experiences are all stored in that gooey thing between your ears.

With this in mind, it is not difficult to see how something could get wired wrong, leading to a problem. Thankfully, there are several groups of people that can help fix the issue, ranging from those who only focus on the neurons to those who focus on preventative measures. One of these groups is focused on both using preventative measures and correcting the issue; that is to say, they are keeping the wires from crossing in the first place and trying to untangle them once they do. This is known as mental health counseling, defined as an individual performing therapy with a client that combines traditional psychotherapy and problem solving with the intent of changing the problem or issue.

One question that seems to pop up a lot is, 'What's the difference between groups who do therapy and groups who do counseling?' There are more similarities than differences between the two. Many people attempt to split them along different lines, but the main difference between the two has to do with the level of severity and their overall purpose.

Counseling focuses on natural stresses and issues with life, like grief, depression, and needing someone to talk to. That doesn't mean counselors cannot deal with more difficult issues, but that tends to be the domain of psychologists. Psychologists tend to conduct therapy that focuses on severe psychological issues, like schizophrenia, personality disorders, and serious mental illnesses.

Mental health counseling can be broken down into a couple of different aspects. We will be looking at the primary areas mental health counselors deal with: mental disorders, preventative measures, and who the clients are.

Mental Disorders and Diagnosis

When neurons in your brain get crossed up, they tend to do it in a measurable way. Everyone has bad days where they don't want to do something. That is normal and means your brain's wiring is fine and normal. I can already hear people grumbling about 'there is no such thing as normal.'

Yes, there is. It is normal to get up and go to work. It is normal to want to do something you think is fun on the weekend. Problems, or major deviations from the norm, are indicative of wiring problems as well as bad information in the wires.

Mental disorders are recorded behavioral and cognitive conditions marked by stress or difficulty functioning. These are issues that have been taken to the next level. As an example, you may not want to get out of bed. Someone with a mental disorder physically cannot will themselves out of bed even if they have festering sores and are wasting away. People suffering from this level of depression likely have problems with their thoughts as well as problems in the wiring of their brain.

Mental disorders are often defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, usually shortened to DSM, which provides the requirements, statistical features, research, and terms for various mental disorders. This is where we find the names and criteria of mental disorders.

When it comes to mental health diagnoses, there is a serious problem of people mixing up a person having a diagnosis into making a person into a diagnosis. What I mean is that it is not uncommon to hear, 'That schizophrenic.' This is like calling someone with AIDS, 'That AIDS,' which we would never do. It is a person with schizophrenia and a person with AIDS, not a person who is schizophrenia or AIDS.


Some disorders are wired into the brain before birth, making prevention difficult. Mental health counselors use preventative measures to make sure problems don't get bigger than they need to be. The old saying 'an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure' is the name of the game. Prevention of mental disorders is broken down into three areas: primary, secondary, and tertiary.

Primary prevention is defined as activities taken to prevent the onset of a targeted condition. These are the things a counselor may do to prevent a condition from occurring before there is even a hint of an issue. This might be stress relieving breaks at an office, which lead to a reduction in the levels of anxiety and depression in the office and will lead to fewer cases of mental disorders.

Secondary prevention is defined as activities focused on preventing an asymptomatic condition. Here there are the hints of a problem, but if it is caught early, it will be kept from growing into a full-blown problem. An example of this would be administering reading, writing, and math tests in schools to identify children who may have problems in these areas, and then taking those children who exhibited problems and putting them into groups to help them. This is where you target the issue, like reading, and get to the problem before it gets bigger.

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