The freedom to work and travel as a counselor

mental health counsellor

Mental health counselors are licensed to provide therapy to people who need help with a range of behavioral and emotional issues. They can provide one-off sessions, but it is far more common for counselors to see clients who have ongoing concerns. That means weekly or monthly schedules are the norm for the majority of clients. As medical professionals, mental health counselors have passed the licensure exams set out by their state and, as a result, they are entitled to diagnose and treat various mental health disorders using a range of talking therapies. They can also prescribe medication for people who have a diagnosed disorder.

For clients with complex needs, the mental health practitioner can work as part of a collaborative team to provide a more comprehensive care package. From mood disorders to addictions and depression, they see clients who are living with many different issues. Some of these will be diagnosable, while others – such as anxiety, body-image problems or anger management – are not but will still present a challenge to the person living with them.

For people in the profession, this is incredibly meaningful work that has a huge impact on the health, happiness and future wellness of clients. Many practitioners have chosen a role in mental health counseling because they have personal experiences of therapy that improved their outlook and they want to make the same positive difference in the lives of others. Counselors tend to be great communicators, capable of empathy, and very patient.

Graduates from many different disciplines are drawn to a role in the field, and counseling training has recently become far more accessible thanks to affordable remote learning courses from universities such as St. Bonaventure (SBU). SBU’s online Master of Science in Education in Clinical Mental Health Counseling offers a thorough grounding in the profession for graduates who are  already working in the field or those who are planning to start a new career and are wondering how to become a licensed Mental Health Counselor in NY.

Once they are ready to practice independently, there will be a wide range of positions for them to consider since, between now and 2032, employment rates are predicted to grow by 18% for counselors and, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this is much faster than average. Some will choose to find a role in a nearby clinic or hospital, while others might prefer to open their own office and work independently. It is also possible to move around the country, or even the world, while working full or part-time as a mental health counselor.

Choosing to travel and work as a mental health counselor

Although many people long to settle down, buy a home and get started on their careers, others have a yearning to travel and gain new experiences in different locations. For newly qualified mental health counselors, learning the ins and outs of the various positions open to them can be a challenge, but a good starting point for most people is simply thinking about what you want to get out of the experience. This is a unique process for everyone, so some counselors will want to plan out their work in new towns or countries well in advance, while others will just jump into a new position when they arrive. Either way, it’s a good idea for practitioners to learn more about how they can find jobs in other locations, how the reimbursement process will work, and where they’ll live while working. This article takes a closer look at some of the options clinical mental health counselors could consider when they are planning to take their career on the road.

Work from no fixed office with teletherapy

A clinical office does not have to be in one place, it can be wherever the mental health counselor is staying at that time. Practitioners who choose this option can build up a schedule of clients in the same way as any other therapist and would then conduct sessions at regular times from any location. Some aspects of teletherapy are different from in-person sessions, and some cannot be replicated. These include the tactile grounding exercises that many therapists use to calm anxious clients and give them focus.

However, during the COVID-19 pandemic and in its aftermath, many counselors had to find workarounds. As well as focusing on the client’s body language and paying attention to what they are saying, there is also a need to understand more subtle facial gestures and tones of voice. Counselors who will be using text messaging or emails must also make sure they are compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Teletherapy has the same demands for client confidentiality and consent, but the document that makes up the consent for treatment form should also refer to the platform that is being used for the counseling. Moreover, it should cover the risks of offering teletherapy, for example, the possible failure of technology. It is almost inevitable that equipment will malfunction from time to time, but addressing this in advance makes it easier to manage when it happens. Some considerations are less obvious, such as positioning a camera to ensure the counselor does not appear too close, far away or high up in comparison to the client. It can also be useful to remember to sit back occasionally, as it gives counselors a wider view of the client and makes it easier to pick up more nuanced expressions or gestures.

Counselors who choose teletherapy can enjoy more personal freedom in terms of where they live and travel, but they will still need to put in regular hours if they are to provide the best possible service to their clients. Furthermore, to ensure that work time does not infringe on the personal time that all medical professionals need to unwind, they will need to practice self-care. Setting boundaries on the hours they are willing to see clients, and establishing a sensible period between clients, should allow counselors to clear their minds and feel refreshed.

Make phone appointments with clients who need counseling

Even though clinical mental health counselors are not in the same room and cannot even see clients during a phone counseling session, they can provide robust support and insight for people who need help. For counselors who travel, this type of appointment can fit in better with their lifestyle and does not involve any additional equipment. All they need is a phone. Moreover, they can choose their working hours and take on clients from many geographical locations, as phone consultations mean people are not restricted to practitioners who are based locally.

For some clients, a phone session is preferable to face-to-face meetings, because they find it easier to express their true feelings when they don’t have to look directly at another person. However, as with teletherapy, the counselor will still need to maintain professional standards. This will involve ensuring that the phone calls are always safe for the client to continue with and also private. That means the client will have to confirm they have a secure place from where they can complete their sessions in confidence. The same is true for the therapist, who has to choose a room in which they will not be interrupted or disturbed by noise or other people.

The client and counselor relationship can remain strong even if they are not in the same room, but work will need to be done to ensure this happens. Building a meaningful connection can come about as a result of the tone of voice a counselor uses, how loudly they speak, and the way they set the scene. For example, they can reassure a client that they are ready to begin a session and will provide their full attention.

Find out about licensing and certification requirements in different countries

Practicing counseling in other countries will demand a high degree of cultural competence, but it is certainly possible. Moreover, from the counselor’s point of view, it is an incredible opportunity to see the world while earning enough money to continue traveling. However, the licensing requirements and training required by individual nations vary greatly and, depending on the country, there may also be language barriers. In some cases, an experienced clinician could navigate these problems by working in a training capacity or offering consultation services to an organization, instead of dealing directly with clients.

However, with the right research into licensing and registration and all the additional information an employer abroad may need, a mental health counselor could practice in another country. Some countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, have a shortage of clinical mental health professionals, and recruiters may be more keen to help qualified US applicants obtain the licensing they need to practice.

In other countries, such as the United Arab Emirates, counselors from abroad can receive generous remuneration and there are employment agencies set up to bring people into the country. Many, but not all, roles demand Arabic speakers, and anyone who wants to work in UAE will have to be licensed by the Dubai authorities, a process that employment agencies are used to completing. In India, getting started would involve approaching a national body, such as the Rehabilitation Council of India, to request more information about training, internships or licensing, depending on a counselor’s area of practice. 

During their research, counselors may find that certain countries do not require professionals to have a license to offer therapy. However, there is still an ethical obligation for them to provide care and support of an excellent standard. In these circumstances, a counselor may choose to live in another country for an extended period and invest in the work they carry out in that country. This will involve gaining a deeper understanding of, and sensitivity to, the local people, their culture and the prevalent religions. They may also make an effort to learn the local dialect, which can make it easier to communicate with clients. To do this, a mental health counselor may take up a position in a clinic or hospital to supplement their income and start to pick up the language from their colleagues.

Adjusting to a new culture can be a challenge, but the opportunity to learn from others and experience a completely different lifestyle will be very appealing to more adventurous graduates.

Participate in a hybrid model of care

When the COVID-19 pandemic was first taking hold, healthcare professionals from across the industry switched to telehealth models of working. This transition helped to avoid the spread of the virus and kept both patients and clinicians safe, without interrupting their counseling sessions. However, as most people are now vaccinated and there is less concern about the virus spreading, many are moving to a hybrid style of care. This incorporates the best of in-person counseling with the benefits of teletherapy and ensures a continuation of care for the patient, wherever their counselor is located.

As well as having the freedom to travel, attend conferences or simply be out of state for some time, counselors also gain other advantages. Primarily, they can deliver more effective care to patients with conditions such as anxiety and avoidant behaviors, who might otherwise avoid an appointment. It’s also a very convenient way to work because sessions can take place in any secure place and the patient can be viewed in their environment on a video call.

However, for many mental health professionals, in-person appointments are the most beneficial for effective counseling sessions. The interpersonal interaction creates an immediate feeling of trust and establishes a solid relationship between the client and therapist almost from the start. As they offer the best of both worlds, hybrid models of care are being integrated into the practice of many mental health workers who don’t want a fixed office.

Take part in workcations and retreats

Two trends that started during the pandemic, workcations and retreats, are an option for counselors who want to practice less conventionally. These breaks provide the chance to combine self-care and leisure with work. In practice, it’s about going to a stunning location, by a beach or in the mountains, and working at the same time. Counselors can set up an office from within the hotel or retreat they are living in and schedule appointments with their clients around any other activities they have planned.

As always, it is important to maintain a boundary between the professional side of a workcation and the personal life of the counselor. However, most mental health workers developed an adaptable approach to remote working during the pandemic, which can be used to inform their practice moving forward. They will have the chance to explore new places, have adventures and learn about other cultures, while also fulfilling the obligations they have made to their clients. For some, it’s simply a more exciting option compared to staying at home, for others it can provide a boost to their creativity and offer a way of coping with work-related stress.

Collaborate with other professionals to improve patient outcomes

Collaborative care involves clinical mental health counselors working with other medical professionals to treat people who are experiencing a range of conditions that impact their behavioral and emotional health. This model can suit counselors who want to move around, rather than being based in an office or clinic, because collaborations often take place through video conferencing. This brings together care managers, consultants and counselors over a wider geographical distance and, as a result, can increase access to mental health services for people in underserved areas.

Care collaborations are structured differently in each state, but they tend to have a couple of factors in common. Firstly, they represent a break from the traditional system of one individual delivering counseling face-to-face. Secondly, they use technology to improve the service received by clients. In this field, mental health counselors have to use their communication skills to ensure they provide consistent feedback to the rest of the team. This ensures each client’s evaluation remains accurate and that the treatment approach is effective.

The freedom to travel and develop an impressive resume

There are many reasons that clinical mental health counselors choose to travel while they work. For some, it’s about seeing incredible new places. For others, it’s about making memories. It can also offer the opportunity to improve their practice. Counselors who regularly work in new environments learn to be more flexible, they are open to ideas and used to making things happen in challenging circumstances. They also enjoy a great deal of personal freedom and become experts at setting boundaries between their professional and private lives. If they do choose to settle into a more fixed role at some point, they will have picked up a wide range of hard and soft skills. Along with their experience and qualifications, this will contribute to an impressive resume that stands out among the competition and is likely to catch the eye of prospective employers.

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