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Mental Health Professionals: Licensed Professional Counselors

Within the realm of mental health professionals, a counselor, or a Licensed Professional Counselor, may offer a patient their first experience with mental therapy. Counselors are sometimes referred to as psychologists due to the nature of their daily activities, however, they are not psychologists, they possess a different professional focus, as well as an entirely different education. While counselors do offer their services, including counsel and advice to a variety of individuals, couples and families, it is often joked that they are the world's greatest listeners, as they provide an incredible environment to talk about anything and everything.

What do Counselors do?

A counselor focuses on establishing trust and strong relationships with their patient base, working toward an eventual analysis, and potentially suggesting solutions or additional courses of treatment. The best counselors are those who are able to lead patients on a path of self realization and discovery, ultimately helping them to find their own solutions to problems. Counselors are also adept at understanding mental illness, and may suggest treatment by a psychiatrist when appropriate and necessary.

In a counseling session, patients are offered the opportunity to share anything and everything. Most counselors strive to provide a safe, warm and highly professional environment to their patients, as opposed to a cold, clinical surrounding. While early sessions may result in surface speak, and a general discussion of present life happenings, a professional counselor will skillfully work beneath the surface, offering questions and provoking thought to assist each unique patient in getting to the roots of their problems.

It is often misconstrued that counselors work solely with people who have "mental issues" or mental illness - while such a sentiment possesses truth, professional counselors also offer their services to "healthy" individuals for a variety of reasons: Couples considering marriage; people considering life transitions; and individuals who are simply looking for an outlet to sound off on the stress offered by life – these are common counseling patients. Counselors are able to assist all of these individuals, by helping them deal with the residual emotions and feelings associated with day to day living.

Different counselors practice in different environments. Some counselors will even make home visits if they feel the environment is appropriate and conducive to real, therapeutic work being done.

Becoming a Professional Counselor

To become a Licensed Professional Counselor (or a professional title dictated by state or health organization – e.g. LMHC - Licensed Mental Health Counselor), a thorough, accredited education is required. Most counselors possess a master's degree or a doctorate degree in counseling.  Extensive internships are required for admission as an LPC candidate in some states. In nearly every state thousands of post-graduate clock hours are required to become a professional counselor. Due to the nature of the profession, such an education is an absolute necessity to become prepared for practical application in the professional field.