Role of a Counselor in Hospital Settings

Instructor: Elizabeth Nyang

Elizabeth teaches counseling classes at the university level, has a private mental health practice and a doctorate degree in counseling psychology.

What happens when you have to go to the hospital for a medical emergency? The doctors will get you stable and comfortable as they help you to start to heal. The hospital counselor can help your to get relaxed and comfortable in you new environment.

What is a Hospital Counselor?

Have you ever thought about taking a swim class, learning how to do tai chi, or going horseback riding? What about being recommended to them by staff in a hospital? These are some of the exciting activities hospital counselors recommend to their patients.

Tai chi is just one recommendation a hospital counselor might give
Tai Chi Exrcise

Hospital counselors are licensed mental health counselors or licensed social workers that help patients find beneficial things to do after they are released from the hospital.

Say uncle Wesley had just survived a heart attack and is ready to go home. Rochelle, the hospital counselor, tells him that exercise is one of the activities he should do to recover. Then she gives him the names of different health clubs in his community that he could join. She would also educate his family on these benefits as well.

Running is an exercise the case manager recommended for this patient to help him stay healthy
Marathon Runners

Primary Work Role

Hospital counselors work in different hospital settings and are an important part of a patient's treatment team. They can even help get insurance authorized so that that the family does not have to worry about how the treatment will be paid for.

Most people are in hospitals for a short stay. Therefore the counselor's primary role is case management, meaning to help the family find important resources the patient needs after they are discharged. Patients and their families receive referrals to link them to everything from home health care aides to summer camps for autistic children.

Rochelle met with uncle Wesley and his wife Sue several times during his one week hospital stay to get a good understanding of activities that might help in his recovery. She helped the family resources in his community that were easily accessible by car and public transportation.

Other Duties

Unfortunately, some patients have high medical needs due to their acute illnesses and are treated in Long Term Acute Care Hospitals (LTACH). Counselors in these hospitals help the patients and their families build coping skills to help them work through issues of depression and anxiety related to their comprehensive treatment for complex diseases.


In psychiatric hospitals, the counselors do assessments to determine the patient's mental illness. For example, they may diagnose a patient with severe depression and make arrangements for a transfer to an inpatient mental health program. They also are trained to recognize when a patient has issues with addiction and take steps to get these patients admitted into alcohol and drug rehabilitation programs after discharge.

In some instances, patients had a dual diagnosis or more than one diagnosis. For example, a patient could be diagnosed with liver disease and alcoholism. In these cases, the hospital counselor links the patient to resources for both of their diagnoses.

They also spend time educating the patient and the family about the symptoms of treatment for the illness. Rochelle did her internship at a psychiatric hospital and she used skills from her training to make sure uncle Wesley was not depressed during his hospital stay.

Grief Support

They provide comfort to families that are apprehensive about leaving their loved ones behind in a facility for treatment. As you can imagine, some patients do not recover from their illness and die while in the hospital. The hospital counselors then provide grief counseling for the family members.

This hospital counselor is helping a family member work through grief issues

These services are especially helpful for parents that lose a child or a surviving spouse that was married for 25 or more years.

Genetic counseling

Genetic counselors help patients and their families understand the risks of and issues related to genetic diseases and inherited disorders. They generally have a master's degree in genetic counseling.

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