The healthcare system is very important for treating individuals when ill, helping them manage ongoing medical conditions, and educating them about living a healthier lifestyle. Although much of this can focus on physical health, efforts to look after mental health are just as critical.
One role in the mental health sector which plays a huge part in this is clinical mental health counselor. This is a popular career choice for many people looking to move into the health sector. When considering the variety of environments these counselors can operate in, the competitive salaries on offer, and the tremendous satisfaction obtained from helping people suffering from mental health issues, it is obvious why.
Many people who move into this profession also like helping a diverse range of clients in their day-to-day jobs. A good example of this is the specific support that counselors provide to female clients, who often have unique mental health requirements.
This article explores how to become a clinical mental health counselor and how counselors in this field deliver targeted support to female clients.
How to become a mental health counselor
Individuals who like the thought of helping people with mental health conditions by affecting positive changes in their lives, will find that working as a mental health counselor is a great career choice.
The first step to breaking into the sector is to look for more information on how to work as a counselor in mental health in the relevant US state. This will ensure counselors complete all the necessary requirements and hold all the right qualifications to help people with mental health in that particular state.
Individuals based in New York, for example, can find out how to become a licensed mental health counselor in NY through universities. Completing the online MSED in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at St. Bonaventure University is a great starting point and an ideal preparation for aspiring counselors in this state. With a focus on building strong professional foundations in its students, this CACREP-accredited program delivers high-quality learning as a standard.
Of course, the same approach is also true for people looking to work in this industry across other US states. Once they have gained the qualifications required and paid the relevant fees for licensure and registration plus met general sector criteria (such as being of good character and at least 21 years old), counselors can begin helping clients tackle issues such as depression or anxiety.
What to expect when working as a clinical mental health counselor
There is no doubt that mental health counseling is likely to be a fast-paced working environment that enables professionals to work closely with colleagues. Depending on the specific work environment, this could be other healthcare professionals, fellow mental health counselors, or organizational admin staff.
The range of clients counselors will provide support to is also something to consider. As mental health problems are not confined to one particular section of society, a client base will typically include people from all cultures, backgrounds, sexualities, and ethnicities. This will see counselors taking on female clients at times so they should be aware of their unique mental health needs when supporting them.
How can counselors address the unique mental health needs of female clients?
The most important aspect of working successfully in mental health counseling is being able to address the specific needs of the client. This not only helps to build a better rapport with them but can also see them more comfortable opening up. This can lead to counselors being able to provide the best level of support and deliver the best client outcomes.
This means it is crucial for all mental health counselors to cater to women’s health and the unique mental health needs of female clients. They can do this through several focuses.
Focus on reproductive health
Perhaps the most obvious way counselors can address the unique mental health needs of their female clients is by focusing on reproductive health. This can be a common cause of low self-esteem, depression and anxiety in women and something which can negatively affect their state of mind.
Although issues around the menstruation cycle each month can be obvious strains on women’s mental state, this is not the only reproductive health problem for counselors to know about. Others which are unique to women include:
- Uterine fibroids
- Gynecological cancer
- Interstitial cystitis
- Polycystic ovary syndrome
Although the above is not an exhaustive list of every female reproductive health issue which could impact a client’s mental health, these may commonly come up in counseling sessions. Although counselors will not have any part in the medical treatment of physical conditions like these, being familiar with them and what impact they can have on a woman’s mental health is imperative.
This can help counselors better understand how certain reproductive health issues might be behind the mental issues a female client is showing. It is also important for counselors to note that barriers to help with reproductive health problems can be something that affects women uniquely and could lead to issues with their mental health. For example, it was estimated that around 45% of US women experienced barriers to reproductive health services in 2021. This could well be the cause of the mental health issues they turn to counselors for help with.
Body image and self-esteem
Mental health issues which are related to body image are something commonly seen across society. This can lead people with poor body image to suffer from low self-esteem and can lead to other problems, such as depression. Although issues with body image affect men and women in the modern age, it is still women who appear to be most influenced by it. An estimated 91% of women have body image issues and do not like the way they look.
Due to the prevalence in women, addressing body image with female clients is one way clinical mental health counselors can address their unique mental health requirements. This can include talking to female clients about their current body image, why they feel this way, and what impact it is having on their mental health.
Addressing this common issue also means that counselors can help female clients look at what is causing their poor body image and make efforts towards settling on a better one.
Women transition through unique stages in life, from girlhood to adulthood, and often motherhood too.
Although every woman is different and experiences life transitions at different times or in different ways, they can be a source of genuine angst for some. While men can also be impacted by these transitions, women’s mental health is sometimes impacted more negatively. Women may be more sensitive to what is happening in their lives, more concerned about how society views them as they age, and more worried about how life transitions may pan out.
Any clinical mental health counselor should cater to the unique needs of female clients by being aware of this. This enables the counselor to identify recent shifts in a client’s life which may be causing them mental health issues. It also means professionals in this field are sensitive to this issue in female clients and understand the role it can play in problems such as depression.
Perinatal mental health
Becoming pregnant and giving birth can be a joyous occasion for mothers. This is not true for all women though, and perinatal mental health problems are not at all uncommon. Perinatal mental health is focused specifically on the mother’s personal experience of carrying the child and how they feel pre/post birth.
Common perinatal mental health problems include:
- Postnatal or antenatal depression
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Eating disorders
- Postpartum psychosis
These mental health issues can be mild, moderate, or severe and require different kinds of treatments. By offering effective help with perinatal problems, counselors can deal with an issue which is unique to the mental health needs of female clients.
Balancing multiple roles
One of the toughest things for women to do in the modern world is juggling multiple roles. This is most clearly seen through how many women balance a busy working life with being a mother and running the family home. When factoring in a hectic social life and caring for elderly parents in some cases, it is easy to see how overwhelming this can become.
This situation is often (but not always) unique to women, as they are generally expected to take on more roles in society than men. This can soon lead to taking on too much and experiencing mental health disorders as a result. The impact can range from feelings of inadequacy to anxiety about not doing enough or depression at how frantic their life is.
A good way for counselors in clinical mental health to address female client’s specific needs is by offering support in this area. By giving women who are struggling to balance numerous roles a safe space to talk with someone who listens, counselors can help them to both feel better and find ways to improve their life situation.
Strategies used to meet the unique needs of female clients
It is not enough to know about the major issues which professionals can focus on to provide targeted support to female clients. Counselors must also know the right strategies to deliver this help in the most useful way. By doing this, they can use strategies which female clients value and which have the best effect.
Providing gender-informed care
This is one of the best approaches for counselors to take when caring for a female client’s specific mental health needs. It involves offering support that is respectful towards women, their experiences, and the unique challenges they face in life.
It also focuses on talking to women in a language they understand and which they respond to best. Gender-informed care helps counselors to provide access to resources which are aimed directly at female clients and delivers support in the way they value most.
It can also see them focusing on care and treatments which may have been developed to help women specifically and finding research which focuses on women’s mental health problems to influence care plans.
Calm and caring support
Another good strategy for helping female clients and their mental health needs is offering calm, non-judgmental support in sessions. Concerns over being judged can often cause great worry to women in particular, so it is key that counselors do not add to this.
In addition, simply offering support and showing female clients they are listening to their concerns properly is an effective tool for improving their mental state. This is especially true for women who do not have this kind of support in daily life and often feel ignored or overlooked. Female clients can often respond very positively to receiving support from their counselor and open up more as a result.
Promoting body positivity
As noted, women in particular can have body image issues and related mental health problems. A good strategy for counselors to help female clients specifically is promoting body positivity in sessions.
By helping female clients feel better about their own bodies, symptoms such as anxiety or eating disorders may show signs of improvement. It can also be worth promoting a more positive body image as part of a general self-care package with female clients. By helping them to exercise more and eat better, for example, clinical mental health counselors can help female clients feel better about themselves in general and lift their mental state.
One of the real barriers female clients face when seeking help with mental health issues is the stigma in society. While this particular stigma impacts men more than women, particularly in Western culture where men are viewed as ‘weak’ for showing signs of mental illness or struggles, it can also impact women. This can prove complex for women under great pressure to cope with what life throws at them without asking for help. For many women around the world, they fear asking for much-needed help with mental health problems could see people look at them less favorably or see them labeled as mentally unstable throughout their lives.
One strategy counselors can use is taking steps to reduce this stigma. This can be in the form of advocacy work around women’s mental health, which can normalize receiving support within society and change people’s attitudes in a positive way. Common ways to achieve this include educating people that there is nothing wrong with women seeking help with mental health issues and getting this message out into the media.
Clinical mental health counselors can also reduce the stigma some women may feel in this area by providing more safe spaces for them to talk about mental health. This could be in the form of informal drop-in sessions which some women may find less problematic to attend. It could also mean using marketing resources like posters or leaflets to advertise mental health support for women and remove any stigma they may feel around it.
Tailored support for female clients is key in mental health counseling
It is thought that around one in five women suffer from mental health issues in the US and this shows just how important it is that they receive effective, tailored support.
Clinical mental health counseling is one way of doing this, but it can only work for female clients if they receive targeted assistance for their unique mental health needs. As a result, it is key for anyone moving into this role to know how to best support female clients throughout their lives.