A mental health clinician is a type of therapist who works to prevent and treat emotional problems. The clinician's clients may need help with self-esteem, stress management, addiction or substance abuse problems. Other areas in which a mental health clinician may help people include interpersonal relationships, such as relationships with a spouse or child. The mental health clinician also may assess a person's risk of attempting suicide and provide appropriate treatment based on the assessment results.
The people that mental health clinicians help are called clients rather than patients. Clinicians interview and observe the client and may administer simple tests to determine what type of problems a person has. They then encourage the client to speak about his feelings and talk about what is going on in life to help him gain an understanding of his own actions. Counseling may not be limited to just an individual. A clinician also may have to speak and work with a client's family members, because their influence may affect the person's recovery or overall mental health.
In addition to interviews, mental health clinicians create and maintain confidential client records and related paperwork. This can include records that are government-mandated forms, diagnostic records or notes about the client's progress. Records of the client's medications and his use or misuse of them also may be required.
Mental health is a continuously developing science, and a mental health clinician may have to attend courses or seminars to learn about new developments in counseling techniques. Another way to learn is to read professional literature or mental health counseling journals. Gathering information about the community's mental health needs also may be done by communicating with other social service agents.
Clinicians utilize mental health theories to develop treatments for individual clients. Mental health clinicians may have a mental health counseling degree or a psychology degree. Classes required to attain these degrees teach about how the brain functions, developmental psychology, how people learn, and what drives their behavior. While attending college, students learn how medications work with a person's brain to alleviate symptoms of mental illness and how to test a person for such illnesses.
People who become mental health clinicians generally enjoy working with people and helping them, both individually and in a group therapy setting. Skills that often help with being a counselor include being able to balance caring for others with caring for oneself. Another useful skill is the ability to listen impartially and without judgment.