mental health professional leading a group therapy session

Essential Skills for Mental Health Professionals

Mental health careers are as varied as they are rewarding. This guide describes mental health skills that will make success in your chosen sector even more attainable. While everyone’s career is different, the following skills for mental health workers are applicable to every profession.


Interest in Others’ Wellbeing/Empathy

Mental health careers have a vested interest in the fundamental wellbeing of other people. Empathy is an intangible skill, but arguably one of the most important in this industry! Find the drive to be invested in people’s stories, and realize that you are committed to building a connection with them that will help improve the quality of their mental health.

It’s important to understand that, no matter your stance on their opinions, it is their thoughts and feelings that matter. Being able to relate to a wide variety of people will make anyone in a mental health career more effective.

client talking to her therapist during appointment



In the same vein as empathy, there is no typical day at the office for someone in this field. Every client is different, and recognizing those differences alone is not enough. A substance abuse counselor who treats every client the same is not giving them the treatment they need. By tailoring your approach to each individual, you ensure that each person is getting help that works for them.

Additionally, understand that not every client may be a good fit for you. Knowing your own limits and what they mean for you can help you make the best decisions for your client.


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Not everyone who walks into the office is going to be comfortable, and putting them at ease from the first day will make every one after less stressful. Being able to communicate clearly and confidently via e-mail, on the phone, and in person makes it more likely for you to have a positive relationship with each client from day one, even if they are nervous at the start.

Communication on the first day sets the tone for all interactions after. Being clear about boundaries and how available you are to the client will help both of you to know what is expected of the other.

client laying down on the couch during appointment with therapist


Critical Listening and Reasoning

These skills are important no matter your career path, but as mental health skills, they are invaluable.

  • Listening – It is impossible to help someone without really hearing their concerns. Being engaged in what others have to say will help zero in on the issues affecting them, even if they don’t say it with words.
  • Reasoning – Listening is only half the battle. Interpretation of whatever your client is (or isn’t) saying is crucial in understanding how best to help them.


While these mental health skills aren’t necessarily ones that are taught in school, self-reflection combined with utilization of online resources can be very effective. Additionally, improving one will aid the others; a skilled critical listener will find it easier to communicate, for example. By committing to improving these skills, you progress as a mental health professional and prove a willingness to educate yourself even beyond the academic.

By Alexis DeLancey-Christiansen, Guest Author | September 11, 2017
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