Mental health counseling is not only about providing advice, but is also about empowering clients in their mental wellness journey so that they can take more ownership in the process. Feeling a sense of being empowered is important to get clients to really buy in and commit to improving their situation. Let’s take a look at how important this concept is and how mental health counselors can make it work.
The history of empowerment in therapy
Historically, the dynamics of therapist-client relationships were largely directive. Therapists assumed an authoritative role, directing clients toward solutions based on their professional judgment. Over time, this approach faced criticism for being too paternalistic and disempowering to clients, and changes began to be made.
The shift from these directive therapies toward approaches that were more collaborative marked a significant turning point in mental health counseling. The change recognized that clients are experts in their own lives and should have an active role in shaping their therapeutic journey. It was no longer about therapists telling clients what to do, but rather working with them to identify and achieve their specific goals.
This led to a rise in empowerment models in counseling, which gained popularity for a number of reasons. These models centered on creating more client autonomy, self-determination and personal agency – all essential elements for creating resilience and promoting mental wellbeing.
The psychological impact of feeling empowered
The reason why being empowered is so important is because of the psychological impact it has on those undergoing mental health counseling. Think of it like a spark that ignites your self-worth and self-efficacy. It’s effectively a reminder to the client that there is actually a solution to their problems, and they have a lot of power in solving them.
When you feel helpless, it’s easy for negative emotions to consume you. Empowerment serves as an antidote. It replaces feelings of helplessness with a sense of strength and purpose. You start seeing challenges not as insurmountable obstacles but as opportunities for change.
This changing perspective also leads to clients building resilience. This doesn’t mean that clients become good at avoiding difficulties, but instead they are able to face them with confidence. Even if they hit a bump in the road later on, they’re much more likely to bounce back.
Empowerment also leads to a change in mindset. Instead of thinking that the situation right now is the way that it will always be, empowered clients begin to recognize that things are not fixed, and there is an appealing future that they can pursue. This mindset on its own is hugely important to anyone dealing with mental health issues.
How counselors foster empowerment
It’s all well and good to understand what empowerment is and why it’s important, but counselors must also know how to help their clients find it. There are a number of different strategies that counselors employ, and an important one is Socratic questioning. This method encourages self-awareness by prompting you to question your beliefs and assumptions critically. Instead of providing answers, counselors create an environment where clients can discover the answers independently.
Another powerful approach is strength-based therapy, which shifts the focus from problems to potential. Instead of dwelling on deficits or issues, this practice highlights your individual capacities and resources. Recognizing your abilities and resilience shifts your mindset and gives you back a feeling of control.
Incorporating client feedback into the therapeutic process is another tool used by counselors. As we touched on before, mental health issues are often highly individualized and based on someone’s unique circumstances. By incorporating their feedback into the therapy, it’s more likely to address the exact problems they’re facing, and, therefore, more likely to be effective.
To be fully adept in these kinds of strategies, counselors need quality training. The Online Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling offered by American International College offers rigorous coursework for those wondering how to become a mental health counselor. The course is a flexible pathway to an empowering career, and the added flexibility of it being completely online makes it even more appealing.
Empowerment and diverse cultural backgrounds
Something that counselors must be aware of is the interplay between empowerment and different cultural backgrounds. Understanding the nuances of a client’s culture can significantly impact how empowerment is perceived and experienced.
Cultural competence also goes beyond simply being aware of different cultures. It involves understanding how their culture differs from your own, and what types of values and beliefs shape their worldview. This goes beyond just understanding their personal situation.
An example here is that in some cultures, discussing personal issues with outsiders might be seen as intrusive or disrespectful. In these cases, counselors need to find ways around this barrier without undermining the client’s comfort level or violating their trust. Using metaphors or stories common in that particular culture could be one strategy to communicate ideas indirectly.
Empowerment in the digital age
The rise of different technologies has impacted the counseling space. The increasing popularity of teletherapy services is a good example of this. Clients often prefer the privacy and accessibility that services such as this offer, rather than the traditional face-to-face form of therapy.
Something else that technology has brought is significantly more self-help options. There are many platforms now that offer resources, interactive tools and all kinds of exercises that someone struggling with their mental health can do at home.
They are giving clients more choice and control over their therapy and helping them to feel like they are in control. Counselors should encourage the use of self-help tools and flexible therapy sessions. It is important, however, that they make sure that the client understands that these tools are complementary to therapy and not a replacement.
Empowerment is at the core of any successful mental health counseling journey. Counselors play an important role in public health and must continue to champion the cause, while also looking to unlock new ways of helping their clients become empowered. Doing so will ensure that their counseling is as effective as it can be and will help as many people as possible.