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Does personal experience in mental health issues help being a mental health counselor. Or you just need an understating in all issues and solutions on how to "fix" them and help cope mechanisms.

Open minded, helpful, wise, observant, and honest #mental-health-counseling


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Bob’s Answer

When you say "personal experience" it depends on the perspective, yourself, a family member, or a friend. Personal experience is a double edged sword, on one hand it can give us insight into some issues and allows us to empathize, however, it can also taint our point of view. So instead of really hearing what your client is actually saying, you can become focused on trying to adapt their situation to your experience, doing both you and the client a disservice. The other issue is that we can't "fix" anybody. As Margaret Herring said in her response, "There are many avenues to recovery." Each person is an individual and has to be treated as such. There is no "cookie cutter" style of therapy that fits every person. As many different schools of thought there are you have that many different counselors, the most effective ones are those who listen to their clients and adapt the treatment plan to their needs with their participation.

A separate issue is again about mental illness and the impact on individuals. Also that a diagnosis is not who the person is. I bring this up because of the stigma that unfortunately remains attached to any mental illness. This impacts some of the issues for the counselor who themselves have a diagnosis are, what if someone else finds out; do I disclose to the client, when and how much; what am I doing to take care of myself; and can I leave the clients' issues at the office. I myself have been in the field of mental health for over 45 years, prior to entering the field I have the diagnoses of Bipolar Disorder, ADHD, and PTSD. However, for the first 10 years of my adult life, I was in the USAF and had to hide the fact that these existed or lose my Top Secret clearance and been kicked out of the service. Again each person is an presents an unique picture also about how they perceive what mental illness is and depending on that perception will be the impact on treatment.

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Margaret’s Answer

Personal experience with mental health issues can be helpful as it helps you to empathize with clients and what they are going through and gives you the perspective of someone who has struggled with mh issues. However, it isn't necessary to become a counselor. Becoming a counselor requires a Master's degree in behavioral health along with internships and practicums, so you will definitely get all of the education and perspective you need. As a counselor supervisor, the biggest issue I see with folks who have struggled with mental health issues becoming counselors is that they have to come to understand that they way they got better is not the only way to get better. There are many avenues to recovery.

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David’s Answer

Hi Aiyana -- I think Bob's and Margaret's answers pretty much cover all the important issues. But just to make it easy to understand, having had personal experiences with mental health issues, for example as a recipient of services, or perhaps knowing someone or a family member who has had mental health problems could provide some additional motivation to enter the field, to help other people with similar problems. On the other hand, a lot of education, training, and supervision is needed to provide the best help possible, whether or not personal experience has been involved. Many years ago when people were developing substance abuse programs, there was an assumption that people who themselves were in recovery were likely to be better able to understand and relate to others who were substance abusers, but research and experience over the years has shown that's not necessarily true.

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