Everyone has different motivations for entering the field, but most stem from the common ground of a desire to help people. Think about why you chose your field and what motivates you to do what you do. Maybe you have mental illness in your family. Perhaps you are frustrated with the current model for mental healthcare and strive to make a difference. Whatever your motivation, speak openly about how you aim to make an impact through working as a mental health counselor.
"I chose to enter a career in mental health because I want to help people who are in need. There are many ways to help people. You can try to make changes in society and in institutions, but I prefer to work with people directly. I think that if a person has the right mental tools, they'll be more likely to be resilient and to survive and thrive in whatever environment or situation they happen to be in."
One of the ways counseling can be so helpful for individuals is that it gives them another perspective on their life. Coming up with a new way of thinking or doing things on your own can seem daunting, especially if you're stuck in a rut. Having a knowledgeable outside perspective can help you to deal with your problems more effectively. Give an example of a time when you were able to give your client the tools they needed to make a change in their life. How did you identify what they needed? How did you help them take the steps to do things differently?
"As a Mental Health Counselor, I practice cognitive behavioral therapy with my clients. I think it is important to help my clients identify their thoughts and emotions and how they affect their daily routine. Once we 've been able to identify the toxic thoughts and emotions we can work together to work towards new stradegies to address their issues."
"One time, one of my clients expressed that they felt very depressed. We identified that part of the reason was because she would be reminded of her perceived lack of social connection when she went on social media. Working with the client, I helped her take on a different perspective of social media. She saw it more as a constructed image rather than reality, which helped her manage her expectations of what she thought her life should be like. This led to a small improvement in her mental health."
Do your research! Find out what you can online, searching the website and employee reviews. It's always a good idea to know as much as you can about your employer. Look for information on their values and their mission. Think about some of the things you value, like a healthy work environment and community involvement. Search the company website to find out what you might expect from working there. Take note of what you find so that you can share what you like about the company and how they are making an impact in the community.
"I've heard so many success stories from your clinic that I'm hoping to get the chance to learn, grow and develop at this company."
"“I know that this facility primarily helps the low-income population, and that’s why I’m applying. In my undergraduate degree, I took sociology courses and realized that while everyone needs to take care of their mental health, low-income populations are most negatively affected by poor mental health, and I want to build a career where I’m making valuable impacts and helping society.”"
This question is similar to the common interview question 'tell us about yourself.' The important thing to highlight with your answer is to tell the interviewer something unique and interesting about yourself as a counselor. Set yourself apart from the rest of the candidates so you will be remembered when it is time to select a candidate. Consider discussing your qualities that demonstrate your skills as a counselor.
"My patience, ability to listen and notice details are all qualities that make me great at my job."
"I think that I've made the most of my experiences by developing a broader perspective, which helps in my interactions with my clients. By being able to see things from many different people's perspectives—it could be their perspective, their friends' or family's, or their spouse—I can help them navigate their personal relationships and understand how they're influenced by them. This knowledge, in my experience, typically helps them make more progress in therapy. Having broader perspective also helps me maintain my own mental health when I get stressed out."
Safety and security are two elements that will help clients to feel free to open up to you. It's up to you to create that safe space through the environment, your energy, and your words.
"I explain my approach to counseling and set clear expectations. I make sure they feel safe and create a comfortable environment in the room so that they can feel more relaxed. I take time to gradually move deeper into topics, asking general questions first and giving the client time to open up."
"It depends on the client. I know that many clients are a little defensive in the beginning, even if they're the ones who decided to move forward with getting help. And I acknowledge that. I tell them that I understand that it's hard to open up to a someone they haven't gotten to know. Once I do that, I tell them that they're the ones in control of how much they progress. I make sure that they understand that this is a therapeutic alliance, that we're here together as partners on a journey, that I'm not here to tell them what to do. I think that once they understand the nature of the relationship, they open up a lot more and the treatment goes a lot more smoothly because of that trust."
If you get irritated easily and cannot stand listening to people talk about the same issue over and over again, working as a mental health counselor might not be a good fit. Patience will help you to sit through some of those challenging sessions. It will allow you to hold space for those who need to vent, think and process. Describe how you are able to practice patience and what role it plays in your counseling.
"As a Mental Health Counselor, my job is to have a high level of patience. Not only do I have patience, my client sessions consist of exercises to develop focus and patience to reduce anxiety and anger."
"Yes, patience is a virtue. I learned first-hand that being patient with clients is crucial. I find it helpful to remember that they didn't get to where they are instantly, that it was a process, just as it'll be a process to improve."
Your motivation for entering the mental health field may be similar to what gives you the most satisfaction in your job. Helping others get on the right path of self-care is extremely rewarding. Offer up an example of a time when you felt most pleased with your work. Think of your client interactions that have proven you made a direct impact on their life. How have your clients changed since you started working with them? What practices and techniques have contributed to your ability to help others in your job?
"Patients that take part in their own treatment is what brings me the most satisfaction as a Mental Health Counselor."
"I get the most satisfaction when I see any improvements in my client. It's not easy to help the client. In fact it's often very difficult, and often the improvements are small. But I recognize every small step as a success and that they accumulate over time. I'm invested in my clients' success no matter how much or how little the progress, but I think it's natural to get very excited when you see that the client is taking to the treatment."
Your counseling sessions could last from 30 minutes to 3 hours. Let the interviewer know that you are flexible to work with the client's needs. You may prefer 60-minute sessions because it gives you enough time to review the last meeting and still have time to listen and advise your client. Explain your preference and then ask about expectations. Share how you manage your time in order to set up your clients for success.
"My typical sessions last 1 hour long. Currently, I have 2-hour blocks on Fridays set aside for more intense therapy with my clients."
"I understand that the typical session is 45 minutes, and I'm perfectly fine with that. I keep track of time during the session and am good at making sure that the session ends with enough time for me to take notes and keep records. If it runs longer than expected, I just reprioritize the housekeeping tasks for later."
In the same way you will need to be flexible for any regular after hours call, you'll need to willing to respond quickly in case of emergency. An emergency could be an attempted suicide or even a crime. Reassure the interviewer that you are willing and able to be available if anything happens in order to support your clients.
"I'm very flexible with my schedule. I've found that evenings and weekends are sometimes better with my clients. If flexibility is needed in this job we can work together to create a schedule that works best for the clients and the office to include potential emergencies."
"I got into this career knowing that emergencies are a fact of life for therapists. In fact, that's one of the reasons that I chose to become a therapist: I wanted to be there for people when they needed help the most, when nobody else is available to them. I pride myself on being reliable and dependable, especially because I think my clients need that source of stability."
Some clients may take longer to progress, or they may not be able to move forward in their lives at all. As you notice the signs, explain how you would address this situation with a client. Tell the interviewer how much time would you allow before redirecting a client and taking a new approach.
"When I begin to notice that the approach I am taking with a client is not helpful for them, I take time to reassess. I'll ask the client some questions and see if we need to set some different goals. From there, I will work together with the client to identify the best ways to reach those goals."
Addressing one mental health condition can be difficult enough. When a client suffers from more than one, the challenge can be far greater. Give an example of a client you supported through counseling and explain how your approach was successful.
"Every client is different. I adapt my approach to individual needs, but I have also found that by guiding clients through answering questions that will help us identify realistic goals has given me consistent results."
"Every client is different, so I have to take an individualistic approach. I'd guide the client to recognize and acknowledge specific issues that I've identified, and also ask what aspects of his or her life that they would like to work on. This lays the groundwork for progress. Once the issues become more clear and evident, I'll consult my supervisor and the psychiatrist for recommendations as well."
Having a five year plan reveals your ambition and ability to plan for the future. You work with clients to help them attain their goals, so why not set some for yourself? "I would like to complete more trainings that will help me to assist my clients in alternative ways. I'm interested in studying somatic therapy to help more of my trauma patients. In five years, I want to be able to offer this as an option for treatment." Be specific! Before your interview take some time to think through your goals and how you intend to reach them.
"I would like to complete more trainings that will help me to assist my clients in alternative ways. I'm interested in studying somatic therapy to help more of my trauma patients. In five years, I want to be able to offer this as an option for treatment."
"I'm always looking to widen my skill set so that I can be a more effective therapist. Over the next five years, I definitely want to learn a range of modalities because I recognize that there's no one-size-fits-all therapy technique. For example, I think that psychodynamic therapy can help clients who are working on improving their anxiety and depression."
This question indicates that you will be working with people from all walks of life and differing ethnicity. Let them know you are comfortable with a wide variety of clients. Give an example of how you have worked with different populations, whether during your internship, school or in a previous role.
"“I don’t have much experience yet and that’s why I’m applying to this center. I think that working with a diverse population will help me become a better therapist by giving me exposure to the common issues that cross cultural gaps, while also showing me precisely how different communities and cultures have their own individual dynamics that impact people’s mental health.”"
It is important that you tell the interview about challenges in your professional life, not your personal life. As you share the different challenges of your clients, the interviewer will feel more confident in your experience as a mental health counselor. There may be specific mental health issues that they specialize in at the particular practice or facility. Do some research on the company before your interview so that you are aware of the types of clients you may be working with.
"I understand that this clinic works with a low-income population that deals a lot with substance abuse. During my internship, I was exposed to clients who were addicted to drugs and alcohol, and I learned that there was a lot of comorbidity with anxiety. There was a lot of self-destructive and self-injurious behavior. I learned that [modality] was helping a lot of the clients, and I want to widen my therapeutic skill set so that I can help the entire range of clients in your population."
Human beings are complex and experience the world from perspectives as unique as they are. That being said, you will deal with all kinds of mental and emotional issues which can create extra challenges to your counseling. Explain to the interviewer that you feel your role is to give your clients the tools to be able to solve their problems. First, you have to help them to understand themselves. How do you do this? How do you help a client set and achieve goals? Give an example that demonstrates your ability to empower your clients.
"I've found that I'm able to reach my most challenging clients by encouraging them to lead their own sessions with a bit of prompting and guidance. I want my clients to be a part of their treatment and develop a plan that works for them."
"I had a client who wasn't showing any signs of improving after three months of treatment. So I reassessed both the treatment goals and the approach. I realized that we hadn't spent enough time helping the client understand himself—for instance, what are his triggers and stressors? So I spent some time guiding him to improve his self-awareness. Once he was able to see recognize his stressors, he was able to begin taking control. This also helped us clarify his goals, because we could be more concrete and well-defined."
As you explain the information you like to gather in your evaluation, be sure to elaborate on why this is helpful and necessary. Why would it be important to find out if other family members had the same diagnosis?
"I like to get a full history from my clients before we can move forward with counseling, starting with family health history and the individual's medical history including any past hospitalizations. It's helpful to know if there is any mental illness in the family."
It's important to think about how the position you are interviewing for will fit into your long-term goals even as you apply for jobs. As you know, it takes a lot of hard work, training, and education to become a mental health counselor. It can also be a high-stress job. You invest a lot of energy into your clients, which can be taxing. Having a future career goal in mind will help you stick with it, despite the challenges. Think critically about what you really want for your future and share how this role will benefit you by helping you get to the next step.
"My goal in the next 5 years is to get a second Masters Degree in Drug and Alcohol abuse counseling and in 10 years to own my own practice."
"Right now, I'm focused on developing an excellent track record in a clinical setting so that I can be prepared to have my own practice. That means that I need to be an excellent therapist and serve my clients well. That's one of the things that motivates me to do a great job for my clients, in addition to simply helping them and making positive impacts on society."
A treatment plan or plan of care is a guide that directs counselors and clients. Tell the interviewer how you identify client needs. Explain your process of evaluating clients.
"I make recommendations for a plan of care after numerous sessions with the client. I gather as much information as I can. It's important to listen to your client and learn what they are currently dealing as well as their background before recommending a plan."
"The goal of a plan is to effectively reach the outcomes that the client and I have identified. To make sure that the plan is effective, we have to have realistic and accurate goals, which also relies on having accurate information about the client. That means that I begin my relationship with the client by observing and gathering as much information as I can. Once I have this information, I can start asking guiding questions to identify issues and goals. Only after I have all of that in place do I make a recommendation for a plan of care."
Counselors have the opportunity to intervene when they make an observation in their client's behavior. If you were to give an example of a situation where a client was misdiagnosed, you might want to share what you did to help redirect your client. Doctors aren't perfect and it's possible for someone to be living with a diagnosis that is incorrect for much of their life. You can connect your clients to resources and support they might need if their medication is incorrect or if they need a different approach to treatment.
"I have worked with a patient that I felt was misdiagnosed. The beauty of working within a multidisciplinary team is that I often consult with the other professionals working with the client to discuss the situation. I'm able to bring my notes to the table and reasses patients in needed to adjust or add diagnosis when necessary."
"I think that mental health issues can be tricky and that misdiagnoses can certainly happen. I had a client who was diagnosed with depression. I saw that he also showed symptoms of bipolar disorder. So I kept an eye out for this and asked my supervisor about it. We had the client see the psychiatrist in our clinic and we concluded that we should update the diagnosis."
Have a few stories in your back pocket to share during your interview that showcase your counseling style and the positive outcomes. Give an example of how you impacted one of your clients. Offer up enough detail, showing the change from when they first began counseling up till the shift in their life.
"I had been working with a client who was struggling with depression. When he first came in, he didn't have a job and was struggling financially. I gave him space to talk and share how hard things had been. I got to know him and his history so that I knew as much as I could to help him set some attainable goals. After six months, he had a job and expressed that he was beginning to feel hopeful about his life."
"I had a client who was diagnosed with mood disorder NOS. When he first came in, he was unemployed and going to school. He had demonstrated homicidal and suicidal ideation at the beginning of treatment. Within only four months, he was feeling a lot less negative about his life and his self-esteem improved. He stopped having thoughts of harming himself or others and instead was much more accepting of the future's possibilities."
Every individual client will be different. In the same way, success can be very relative. One client may be successful as they have learned to manage their illness well and held down a job for an extended period of time. Another client may be successful because they started taking their medication consistently and sleeping better. Your definition of success may be as simple as helping others take steps towards reaching their goals. The steps themselves may be the milestones that define success. Share your opinion and how it relates to your work as a counselor.
"“Success is ultimately defined by the client. I work jointly with each client to develop a customized treatment plan with well-defined milestones. If I’m supporting them to improve their mental health and the skills they need to maintain that level of mental health, I consider that a success.” "
Before your interview, take some time to reflect on your accomplishments and work experience. What are some of the qualities that have helped you to succeed? What are some traits that have helped you throughout your training as a mental health counselor? As a counselor, you will need to be a good listener, empathetic and observant. This is one of the most common interview questions so don't get caught off guard with this question- be prepared!
"One of my greatest strengths is my active listening skills. I've spent years working on this and it reflects in my positive communication skills and outcomes with my clients."
"“I’m very empathetic and patient. I’m also good at observing and listening. I think those traits and skills come together to make me a very effective therapist.”"
Counselors often lay out how they would get involved in this situation in the first session. Mental health counselors are legally required to report to the authorities if their client has threatened to harm their self or others. Tell the interviewer that you will take action to follow ethical guidelines in order to protect them. You would also follow up with further questioning to find out if they have ever made the attempt in the past. You have an opportunity to make a great impact in these situations. Show the interviewer that you recognize your role in preventing harm to your client.
"This is one of the first conversations that I have with my clients, so that they know exactly what to expect and what the law says about this kind of situation. I explain to them that I'll have to ask them to stay with me until the ambulance arrives to deliver them to the psychiatric ward at the nearby hospital, where they may be kept for up to 72 hours for observation. Of course, this sounds like a negative situation, so I make sure that they understand why I'm doing it, and that I consider it a last resort and only if I truly believe that they're going to be a threat to their own safety. I make sure they understand that I'm not only mandated to do this for their own protection, but also because I care deeply about their safety."
This question is often asked at the end of an interview. It gives you a chance to share a few final reasons why you are the best candidate for the job. Share a few authentic qualities. Talk about how you have helped clients in the past and how you will do so in the future. Be sure to stay within the job description, keeping in mind those exact qualities that you know the interviewer is looking for. Do a little research to learn about the work environment and culture. This is a chance for you to sell yourself, so make the most of it!
"“I think that, while most other counselors are also compassionate and patient, I have an extraordinary passion for helping others and I’m extremely committed. I don’t bat an eye about taking a call from a client even if it’s in the middle of the night. I see this as a calling, as my life’s work. In addition to that, I’m committed to professional growth: I plan on getting the skills necessary to open up a clinic.”"
You may have already given the interviewer examples of your work, but now you have a chance to share more in depth what you have learned and practiced with clients. Rather than diving in head first, sharing all of the details of your overall experience, take this opportunity to talk about some of the challenges and successes you have experienced that have shaped you as a counselor.
"I've just completed 4000 hours of supervised work in an outpatient alcohol abuse center. Over the last few years, I've been mentored by the best and look forward to bringing what I've learned to this position."
"I've worked at a free clinic at a community-based organization where I was able to treat a very diverse population. I learned a lot in my time there, like how different cultures deal with mental health issues and how I can play a part in overcoming those hurdles to help my clients make progress in their lives. That's why I'm applying here. I want to continue my work with a diverse population, with a stricter focus on mental health issues, compared to the current clinic where there's a lot of comorbidity with substance abuse."
Share something you have done that has helped you in your personal and professional life. Learning to slow down and manage stress better is a good example. You can share tools and tips you are applying to your life that have helped you to be more effective at your job. You could even share a weakness that you are working on and how making this improvement has helped you so far.
"I've started volunteering with our local violence helpline. I provide brief counseling over the phone, provide local referrals and get the victim in a safe place. I am happy that I'm working within my career field as well as supporting our local community."
"When I first started out, the job was very emotionally draining and stressful. I think that, in the past year, I've gotten much better at handling the job in terms of the extent that it affects my personal well-being. For example, I adopted a few routines to give myself a mental transition between my work and home life. I make sure to my grocery shopping on the weekend so that I can cook when I get home because cooking helps me focus on the present moment instead of dwelling on the workday. I also give my parents or friends a quick call to talk about how they're doing. In this way, I'm recharging and refreshing myself so that I can give my clients the attention and focus that they deserve.""
Be cautious not to recite your credentials as listed on your resume. The interviewer is more interested in how you experienced your education. What were some highlights? You can talk about case studies that interested you and what it was like to intern under a specific therapist. You can share experiences with clients or research about the brain that you found particularly interesting. Share some things that give the interviewer insight into your style, personality, and approach to therapy.
"In addition to my Bachelors and Masters degree in Social work I've devoted many hours volunteering with our local Woman's shelter and local school. I've been lucky enough for the last 4 years to work with an amazing staff of professionals and be able to bring my experience into the homes of families that need my intervention and counseling."
"During my program, I learned a lot about the wide range of therapeutic techniques that are available to mental health counselors. I know that our real education begins in the real world, when we start treating real clients with real problems. In my internship, I was exposed to such a diverse group of clients, and I knew then that I'd need to expand the modalities that I could practice. I worked in a mental health clinic that treated low-income individuals, and there they focused on CBT because of the time constraints from the insurance that the clients had. I realized that it wasn't necessarily the most effective form of treatment for everyone though. It was there, in the real world, that I realized that if I wanted to be an effective therapist to more people, I would need to learn to practice a wider range of modalities."
Share something you learned while completing your training that will benefit you and your clients as you work in this new role. Giving an example will help the interviewer to get a clearer picture of your qualifications. Talk about how working with a particular client taught you about a specific mental illness or problem that you now have better tools to be able to solve. You can share how the therapist you trained under influenced your counseling style.
"I think that my training in cognitive behavioral therapy will play a big role in helping many of the clients in this population. I noticed that this clinic focuses on supporting individuals who are recovering from addiction, and cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the leading modalities that's proven by research to be highly effective."
Who are your influences? Do you prefer a cognitive behavioral therapy approach? Do you integrate alternative forms of therapy in your counseling, like art or yoga? Talk about how you have developed your style of counseling through your education and research. You may make modifications after trying different approaches with clients and identifying that some strategies work better than others. Share how you are unique!
"My communication style in both my professional life and personal life is to be factual and honest. I've found that this achieves the most effective results."
"I employ person-centered therapy techniques. I believe that changes are most durable when they're brought about through a genuine relationship between the client and myself. That means that I have to acknowledge that I myself am not a perfect person. I believe in guiding the client in his or her change and make sure that the changes we work on is something that they come up with, not something that I'm assigning to them as an authority."
Reassure the interviewer that you understand your role as a mental health counselor. You are comfortable with working long hours and staying in touch with struggling clients during off hours.
"“I understand that, and that’s completely fine. I knew that that would be an aspect of being a mental health counselor even before I started going to school for it. The way I see it, my clients wouldn’t be calling me unless they really needed me, and I make it my personal responsibility to be dependable and available to them whenever they need me.”"
As a Mental Health Counselor, you are a member of an elite group of helping professionals. You may work with individuals, couples, families or small groups. You help patients with problems such as poverty, abuse, addiction, unemployment, educational problems, disability, trauma and mental illness. You may provide individual, family and group counseling, case management services connecting clients with resources and service providers, and other services to empower clients to meet their own needs. As a Mental Health Counselor, you help patients identify internal struggles, help them examine their relationships, family structure, community environment, and the systems and policies that impact them to identify ways to help address challenges. You use a strength-based approach while counseling patients. This technique suggests that individuals have strengths and resources and the Counselors role is to help build upon a person’s skills and support systems.
As a Mental Health Counselor, your patients and schedule can be demanding. Flexibility and patience go hand and hand in this career field. Knowing how to prioritize and complete several tasks at once is crucial to getting things done in an effective and efficient manner as a Counselor. Your passion and empathy will show during your counseling sessions when you go the extra mile to empower others to lead healthier, more productive lives.
During your interview, it will be important to know your target population. Do your homework before this interview to know exactly what position you are interviewing for and what type of clients you'll be working with. The interviewer will be interested to know how you made an impact at your last job. Have a few short stories handy to share with the interviewer. By using the STAR method, you can cover all your bases as you would in a counseling session. Situation: Briefly describe the situation. Task: Point out the desired goal. Action: Share the steps you took to achieve the objective. Result: Describe the positive outcome. You can also share if there were lessons learned from the situation and how it impacted your last job.