7 Skills You Need for a Career in Mental Health

Mental health is a domain with a broad spectrum of career choices. Mental health professionals help diverse groups of people, including adolescents, adults, and the elderly, cope with various psychological disorders as well as life stresses and troubles. The problems may include relationship issues, depression, parenting problems, substance abuse, aging-related psychological problems, anger, and other behavioral or emotional issues.

Most mental health practitioners, such as licensed counselors, psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric nurses, and mental health social workers, at least hold a master’s degree or higher with special training and licensure in the particular specialty. Different practitioners employ different strategies and approaches to care for patients with mental disorders.

Professionals in the mental health field often require frequent contact with patients suffering from mental health crises; this is where they need an excellent command of several skills, which can only be achieved by gaining the right qualifications.

In the mental health field, from psychiatry to counseling, having exemplary qualifications, training and certifications are essential to advance your career. Through advanced education and training, mental health providers lay the groundwork and gain insights into psychological patterns of human behaviors, which, in turn, helps them develop some essential skills.

For example, individuals who desire to pursue a career in counseling must complete a master’s degree in counseling or psychology and train to obtain an LCPC license. The license confirms that professionals have met the specific requirements set by their state and certifies them to offer their services to people struggling with mental disorders. It also demonstrates counselors have the skills to create treatment plans for patients and collaborate with other healthcare practitioners if advanced care is needed.

Coming back to the topic at hand, whether you are interested in a career in psychology, counseling, or social work, some must-have personal skills will help step up your career in mental health.

1. Active listening

As a mental health professional, active listening is the initial move toward understanding, evaluating, and guiding the patient. When listening actively, your attention must be on the patient to understand and assess what they are trying to tell you. Try to make eye contact, not interrupt them, and avoid doing other activities while your patient speaks.

Good listening skills can be beneficial for both the practitioner as well as the patient.

  • It shows genuineness, which in turn helps establish trust in the mental health professional.
  • It allows your patient to vent out, disclose their thoughts, and share their feelings with you, which makes them feel better.
  • It facilitates you to gather important information about the patient that would foster the treatment or counseling process.
  • Above all, the patient often finds solutions to their problems through free talking, which allows the practitioner to get a better insight into the causes.

No matter the niche, all mental health professionals need excellent listening skills to put their patients at ease and make them feel safe to open up about their current wave of emotional and mental anguish.

2. Critical thinking

Critical thinking is a skill that mental health practitioners practice daily. Each patient you work with brings a unique set of concerns you must navigate to offer them the best possible care.

Critical thinking is the practitioner’s ability to assess and address problems that arise within the practice correctly. Whether you encounter a child, adult, elderly, or a couple, you will be required to think critically and work to provide optimum care to your patients or patients with the outcomes they want. The critical thinking process may include phases like assessment, planning, action, and evaluation. Once you engage with the patient, you begin exploring their present issue. After thorough exploration, the next steps are to plan a set of actions, execute the plan, and finally evaluate the outcomes.

3. Patience and resilience

Love to be a helping hand to vulnerable individuals? Are you good at keeping yourself calm in difficult situations? If yes, a career in mental health might be a fit for you.

Patience is a personality trait that must be present in professionals working in the mental health sector. It is the art of dealing with difficult or frustrating circumstances frequently.

As a mental health provider, your work can be very intense and challenging. You will regularly help patients through emotional issues, which can cause burnout if you let performance pressure, overwork, and stress build up. Developing adequate emotional robustness, patience, and a capacity for self-care, is essential to work in the mental health domain.

4. Flexibility

An ideal mental health professional has a good idea of multicultural issues and has flexibility in clinical practice. Each patient you meet is unique in their background, experience, and engagement in the therapeutic process. Therefore, practitioners need to develop a skill that allows them to transition from one patient to another based on their experiences.

Another aspect of flexibility is recognizing circumstances when things are not working, communicating with the patient, and referring the patient to another specialist practitioner who may be able to treat them better.

5. Teamwork

It is the most common sought-after skill in many fields, including healthcare. Teamwork in mental health refers to two or more professionals collaborating with a common purpose while encouraging problem-solving and honest discussion on goals.

Successful mental health professionals strive to understand the patient’s condition, ask relevant questions about the issue, make a first assessment, and, following the discussion, offer a recommendation based on their assessment.

Good collaboration leads to positive mental health outcomes and also helps practitioners decrease their stress and keep the workload manageable.

6. Good Judgment

Another essential skill individuals must have in the mental health field is excellent judgment skills. This does not mean you start passing judgment or giving advice on a patient’s feelings or actions; rather, through free talking, try to help patients see things from a different, more positive angle.

Mental health practitioners must be able to understand and give an educated opinion on their patients and support them deal with problems they may be having. Your patients should feel free to express their feelings and thoughts without rejection, criticism, or judgment. As a practitioner, you will need to maintain your responses in a professional and supportive manner.

7. Empathy

Empathy is one of the most important skills required for a career in mental health. Research suggests that nurturing an empathic relationship with your patient without bonding with them can lead to better patient outcomes and fewer disputes with other healthcare professionals.

A good mental health professional communicates calmly, understandingly, and warmly and knows how to respond to patients given their specific conditions.

Empathy helps practitioners create an environment of support and trust where optimum health outcomes are fostered.


A mental health practitioner is a professional who provides services to enhance people’s mental well-being or treat psychological disorders, such as substance abuse, anxiety, depression, or other problems. Apart from having excellent education, training, and required licensing certificates, there are certain necessary skills individuals need for a successful career in mental health. These skills allow professionals to advance their careers and improve overall patient outcomes and satisfaction.

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