Health & Wellness

Essential Skills You Need to Work in Mental Health Care

Modern mental health care is evolving all the time. We’re learning more about mental health conditions and the new treatments are available, and as a society, we have a much deeper understanding of mental health than we did even ten years ago. Mental health issues like depression are no longer the taboo that they once were, and we’re finally starting to treat mental health with the respect that we treat physical conditions. 

This means that it’s a great time to get involved in mental health care. There are more jobs available, and more specialisms to study. There is a wide range of options, but for most, there are some essential skills that you need if you want to be successful. 

What is Mental Health Care?

Our mental health includes things like our emotional, phycological, and social well-being. This means that it affects how we think, act, and feel. Good mental health means that we are able to live a happy, fulfilled life. It can even boost and protect our physical health. Disordered mental health, on the other hand, can hurt almost every aspect of our life. 

Mental health services primarily focus on diagnosing and treating mental health disorders, which can include things like depression, anxiety, bipolar, eating disorders, and personality disorders. But they also put into place procedures and checks to prevent future mental health issues and give patients the tools that they need to protect their own mental health and well-being without the need for assistance in the future. 

Why Consider a Career in Mental Health Care?

A career in mental health care can be challenging. It can be hard and upsetting work. But it can also be incredibly rewarding. Some of the reasons to consider a career in this field include:

  • You’ll get to help people and make a big difference to the lives of your patients but also their families and support networks.
  • It’s interesting work. No two days are the same and there are always new things to learn and experience.
  • There is a wide range of careers available, and something like school counseling can be ideal if you need a flexible career around your family. 
  • You can improve and educate the community.
  • There are fantastic opportunities for career progression.
  • You will have a better understanding of your own mental health. 
  • You will be surrounded by supportive and like-minded colleagues. 

What Essential Skills Do Mental Health Professionals Need?

All professions have essential skills that employees need to be great at their jobs. The specific skills will depend on the post and are often listed on job adverts and descriptions. 

If you have many of the following skills, a career in mental health care might be one that you are suited to. 

Problem-Solving and Critical Thinking

As a mental health professional, you are bound to come across plenty of challenges. You’ll need to be able to work through problems objectively, coming up with creative solutions when you need to. Critical thinking and problem-solving can make your life easier, and help you to offer effective treatment and care, tailored to each individual patient’s needs. 

The Ability to Think on Your Feet

When we’re working with people with mental health disorders, things can change quickly. Your patients might have extreme mood changes, become very emotional or distressed, or seem to go through multiple shifts in personality in a short session. Being able to think on your feet and make decisions and changes quickly will help you to adapt and minimize disruption or upset. 

Organization and Time Management

Time management and organization are crucial in any healthcare role, which is sure to be busy, varied, and often stressful. 


Empathy is the ability to understand the feelings of others, instead of just sympathizing. This is an exceptionally important skill for anyone working in mental health, and it isn’t something that all of us have. 

You Need to Be a Great Listener and Interpreter

We can all sit and listen. But there’s a big difference between hearing the words, and immediately forgetting or moving on, and really listening. When you work in mental health you need to be able to listen, take in, understand, empathize with, and interpret the information that you are given. This can be challenging, especially when you are speaking to someone with disordered thoughts, but the best mental health professionals are often the best listeners. 

The Ability to Switch Off

In any healthcare career, you are going to have some emotionally challenging days. While it’s bound to affect your own emotions, if you want to work in mental health care you need to be able to switch off from it when you get home, in order to enjoy your own life and protect your mental health. 

Excellent Judgement

You need to be able to assess your patient’s needs, make a diagnosis and develop a treatment plan while speaking to them without judgment. It can be a hard balance to find, but it’s essential if you want to work with people with mental health disorders. 

Brilliant Communication Skills

Mental health care isn’t just about patients and practitioners. There are multiple people and departments involved. As a practitioner, you’ll need to speak to multi-disciplinary groups, other practitioners, administration, advocates, patients, legal professionals, teachers, doctors, carers, family members, and sometimes even members of the government. You’ll need excellent written and verbal communication skills, as well as the ability to advocate for your patients and their families when needed. 

The Ability to Inspire Trust

There are many different personality traits and characteristics that inspire trust, and we don’t all do it in the same way. Some people are open. Others are approachable. Most are warm and friendly. Some are funny and calm. However you inspire trust, it’s something that you need to do if you want people to open up to and confide in you, and trust in your diagnosis and treatment plans. 

Respect for Professional Boundaries and Confidentiality

At times, your commitment to confidentiality, and your own boundaries are bound to be tested as you develop professional relationships with long-term patients. But for your career, your own mental health, and the good of your patients, you must be able to stick to these rules, guidelines, and laws. 


Mental health care is a rewarding profession, but it’s not something that gives fast results and quick wins. Sometimes you’ll have to wait for any kind of breakthrough and patience is a must-have for any successful mental health practitioner. 


In this kind of career, there are bound to be bad days. There’ll be times when there seem to be far more bad days than good, and when everything feels like it’s going wrong. You need the resilience to come out the other side. 

A Commitment to Learning and Self-Improvement

Mental health is an evolving field. To be good at your job you’ll need to commit to lifelong learning and the constant quest for self-improvement. You should be the sort of person that always wants to give and help more. 

What Qualifications Do You Need to Work in Mental Health Care?

The qualifications that you need to work in mental health care very much depend on the role that you are looking at, and it’s important to remember that any position, from support worker to mental health counselors in schools, to senior psychologists, are all important when it comes to caring for patients, improving mental health services, and improving people’s quality of life. 

As a support worker, you might need some experience in health care, or other related fields, which can be sought through volunteer work, but no formal qualifications. Your skills and experience will be more important. 

However, if you want to take a more senior position like a clinical mental health counselor, you may need formal training. Take a look at this article on how to become a clinical mental health counselor in New York and explore your options. 

Career Opportunities in the Mental Health Care Sector 

There is a wide range of career opportunities available for anyone with an interest in mental health. The career that you choose might depend on your skills, experience, field of interest, or how committed you are to further study and training. There are careers, such as research and development or legislation, which are ideal for anyone who would prefer a non-patient-facing role, as well as careers in front-end services. 

The careers available, as well as the number of posts, will only increase as we invest more money and time into mental health research and treatment, but some examples of careers currently available in the sector include:

  • Researcher
  • Technician
  • Mental health nurse
  • Occupational therapist
  • Art therapist
  • Music therapist
  • Cognitive therapist
  • Mental health pharmacist
  • Clinical psychiatrist
  • Counselors
  • School counselor
  • Social worker
  • Assistants and support workers
  • Prison based mental health nurse
  • Creative therapy support roles
  • Specialist mental health nurses and clinicians

Working in mental health care certainly isn’t something that suits everyone. But if you have the essential skills that we’ve looked at here and are willing to take on some training and study, it can be an exceptionally fulfilling path that gives you a great chance to help the wider community, as well as your patients. 

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