Mental health counselors assist people with addressing emotional issues and stress levels, teaching them the skills to cope with the many problems that life presents. By helping patients to change their outlook and behavior, counselors empower them to increase their self-esteem and improve their overall wellbeing. Mental health counseling is a holistic process that addresses physical as well as mental health and encourages people to set positive goals in their lives.
Advanced educational programs such as the online Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling provided by American International College enable aspiring counselors to acquire the necessary skills to support patients. These individuals can increase their chances of employment in the field of mental health counseling as they learn the intricacies of human dynamics, psychopathology, counseling and more.
What is stress, and how does it affect our bodies?
Stress is the body’s reaction to emotional or physical tension, which usually happens when we are faced with a situation that makes us angry, frustrated, nervous or scared. It affects us all differently, depending on our personalities and circumstances. People adopt different methods of coping, many resorting to excessive eating, smoking or drinking. These habits are just a temporary fix and may lead to other physical problems in time.
Chronic stress can cause our bodies to trigger a fight-or-flight response, releasing hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol into our systems. They speed up our heart rate, slow digestion and increase the blood flow to our muscles, giving us the strength to cope with the threat.
Once the danger is over, our bodies have been programmed to relax and return to normal. However, when the situation is prolonged and we are in a state of constant stress, our bodies do not relax sufficiently, and in time, this has an impact on our health. In the long run, it can cause physical disorders such as heart disease, digestive problems and diabetes.
Psychosomatic illnesses are physical problems that are caused by the body’s reaction to stress and can affect various parts of the body. Generally, people are not aware that their problem is psychosomatic. They might pay numerous visits to practitioners and undergo various tests to find the cause of their problems. Indications that patients may have psychosomatic-related issues include frequent visits to the doctor, symptoms that last for six months or more, constant distress about their symptoms, and symptoms that are disruptive to their lifestyle.
Methods of treatment
Many counselors use a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness-based therapies when treating people who are suffering from stress or anxiety. Below, we give a breakdown of what these treatments involve and how they help patients overcome their stress-related problems.
CBT is a talk therapy that focuses on connecting thoughts, emotions and behaviors and demonstrates how changing one of these processes can affect the others.
Our thoughts reflect our ideas, opinions and unique perceptions of ourselves and the world around us. Emotions are an experience of feelings such as sadness, joy, fear or anger. If a therapist can help their patient to change their thoughts, feelings and behaviors in ways that help them to relax, the patient’s stress levels can be reduced, and their psychological wellbeing enhanced.
Thoughts and emotions can be changed by altering a situation, by shifting our attention to a more positive side of the situation, or by reappraising the situation. By practicing mindfulness, we can make a difference to our state of anxiety and stress, gaining more confidence and improving our self-esteem in the process.
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy(MBCT) helps the patient to be mindful of their internal thoughts and feelings in relation to their external environment. MBCT is a talk therapy that combines mindfulness with CBT practices, improving the mental and physical wellness of patients. Mental health counselors encourage patients to focus on the present, accepting their thoughts and surroundings without judgment.
By putting past experiences out of their minds and pushing aside their worries regarding the future, patients can focus on the now. This practice also helps to prevent repetitive negative thought processes that can be so harmful. Mindfulness can be enhanced with activities such as meditation, deep breathing and relaxation.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) combines mindfulness techniques with yoga, meditation and other methods of relaxation such as massage or hypnotherapy. MBSR is effective in restoring body and mind, leaving patients receptive to mental healing.
Addressing physical health problems
Mental health counselors are aware of the importance of physical health and the role it plays when treating mental disorders.
Not only can eating healthy food improve physical health, but it also provides nutrients that are essential for mental health. Studies have shown that many mental health patients have deficiencies in nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids, and by supplementing these nutrients, they can reduce their symptoms. Mental health counselors encourage their patients to make changes to their diets, one small step at a time.
Regular exercise in the form of jogging, swimming, cycling, dancing or even gardening increases blood levels in the brain, reducing stress levels and enhancing mood.
Sleep is a great healer, and counselors encourage patients to adopt a regular sleeping pattern, preferably in relaxed surroundings. Practicing CBT methods before bedtime can help patients change the thought processes that prevent them from falling asleep.
Mind-body methods of healing focus on the communication between mind and body, taking into account the effect that our emotional, mental, social and spiritual wellbeing has on our health. Many of the methods used enable the patient to relax and are therefore helpful for treating disorders involving stress.
There are various activities that therapists encourage in clients. These include interacting with family and friends, taking up a hobby, listening to music, yoga, meditation, tai chi and more. These activities provide patients with new and different healing experiences.
In addition, disadvantaged communities are able to benefit from these therapies as they don’t always have access to regular counseling facilities.
Challenges and rewards
As a mental healthcare counselor, you are likely to encounter a diverse range of personality types with even more diverse problems. The work is both challenging and interesting, and there are certain to be days that leave you feeling depleted. However, seeing the difference that you can make in your patients’ lives makes it all worthwhile. The important thing to remember is that in order to look after others, you need to look after yourself. Therefore, eat healthy food, make sure that you get enough exercise and sleep, and cherish your relationships with family and friends.