Mental Health Counselor

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A mental health counselor is a professional who provides counseling to individuals, couples, families, groups, or larger systems. A mental health counselor may also have training in educational and vocational counseling (MacCluskie & Ingersoll 2001).

Description of duties

A significant point of reference to distinguish Mental Health Counselors from Social Workers, Psychologists, Nurse Practitioners, and Psychiatrists, is that Mental Health Counselors increasingly utilize a wellness model for counseling clients, versus (or in conjunction with) the more traditional medical/illness model for assessment and diagnosis. Working with clients from a perspective of wellness is defined by emphasizing the strengths present within all people and looking for the positive aspects of the self to enhance life, rather than simply looking at people as having a set of problems that need to be solved.

Mental health definition

Weare (2000) notes that mental health is socially constructed and socially defined; that is different professions, communities, societies and cultures have very different ways of conceptualizing its nature and causes, determining what is mentally healthy, and deciding what interventions are appropriate (p.12). In the United States, a number of professionals have attempted to define a holistic model of wellness. Sweeny and Witmer (1991), Witmer and Sweeney (1992), and Myers, Sweeny and Witmer (2000) have proposed a holistic model of wellness and prevention over the life span based on empirical literature that “incorporates…concepts from psychology, anthropology, sociology, religion and education” (Witmer & Sweeny, 1992, p.140) as well as theoretical perspectives from personality, social, clinical, health and developmental psychology (Hattie, Myers, & Sweeney, 2004). Within the Wellness model developed by Myers, Sweeny and Witmer, five life tasks—essence or spirituality, work and leisure, friendship, love and self-direction—and twelve sub tasks—sense of worth, sense of control, realistic beliefs, emotional awareness and coping, problem solving and creativity, sense of humor, nutrition, exercise, self care, stress management, gender identity, and cultural identity—are identified as characteristics of healthy functioning and a major component of wellness. The components provide a means of responding to the circumstances of life in a manner that promotes healthy functioning.

See also


  • Hattie, J.A., Myers, J.E., & Sweeney, T.J. (2004). A factor structure of wellness: Theory, assessment, analysis and practice. Journal of Counseling and Development, 82, 354-364.
  • MacCluskie, Kathryn C. & Ingersoll, R. Elliott Becoming a 21st Century Agency Counselor: Personal and Professional Explorations, Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2001. ISBN 0-534-35605-2
  • Myers, J.E., Sweeny, T.J., & Witmer, J.M. (2000). The wheel of wellness counseling for wellness: A holistic model for treatment planning. Journal of Counseling and Development, 78, 251-266.
  • Sweeny, T.J., & Witmer, J.M. (1991). Beyond social health: Striving toward optimal health and wellness. Individual Psychology, 47, 527-540.
  • Weare, K. (2000) Promoting mental, emotional and social health: A whole school approach. London: Taylor & Francis, Inc.
  • Witmer, J.M., & Sweeny, T.J. (1992).A holistic model for wellness and prevention over the lifespan. Journal of Counseling and Development, 71, 140-148.

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