Sara found it hard to get out of bed. Laying in the fetal position she was overwhelmed with a sense of hopelessness…doom. She found herself awake most nights and even when she slept, she woke up feeling unrested. She stopped hanging out with friends or joining her running club for their weekly jogs (something she once looked forward to). She began regularly calling in sick, pretending that she had food poisoning or the flu. She was in fact sick, but she didn’t know what it was and thought nobody would understand.
What Sara didn’t know was what she was suffering from—depression—was not uncommon at all.
• In the U.S. around 20.9 million or 9.5% adults (aged 18+) suffer from a mood disorder (i.e. major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder and dysthymic disorder).
• Anxiety disorders and substance abuse problems often co-occur with depressive disorders.
“Depression, also known as clinical depression, is a serious medical and mental health disorder that is associated with many factors, including the balance of chemicals in the brain,” states RightDiagnosis.com. “Depression can manifest as a large variety of symptoms, most often feelings of sadness or despair that do not go away. Depression can negatively affect a person’s ability to function effectively in the activities of daily living, such as going to work and school, caring for family, and taking care of basic needs.”
It is important for someone suffering from depression to get treatment. While the course of healing is different for each person, a depression counselor plays a very effective role in helping a depressed individual regain their life. Depending on the patient, psychotherapy provided by a depression counselor may be used in conjunction with medications or other forms of treatment.
Depression Counselors At a Glance
- Degree Level Requirements: Master’s Degree
- Licensure Requirements: Licensure required; requirements vary by state.
- Median Annual Salaries: $40,080*
- Job Outlook: 37% growth from 2010 to 2020**
Career & Job Description
Depression counselors provide or facilitate psychotherapy, also known as “talk therapy” or counseling. According to WebMD’s Depression Health Center, it is an “effective treatment for clinical depression,” adding that other forms of treatment may need to be used in conjunction with therapy, such as medication or other modalities, to successfully resolve severe or major depression. “The role of psychotherapy in treating clinical depression is to help the person develop good coping strategies for dealing with everyday stressors,” states WebMD.
Depression counselors may work in a variety of settings including hospitals, outpatient clinics, mental health centers, employee assistance programs, substance abuse centers, rehabilitation facilities, community service organizations and private practice.
Some of their duties include:
• Help diagnose mood disorders through evaluations and assessments.
• Facilitate counseling as part of individual, family and/or group therapy.
• Encourage clients or patients to talk about their emotions, experiences, symptoms, stressors and life changes.
• Help clients or patients develop coping and therapeutic strategies.
• Coordinate with other professionals (such as doctors, social workers and psychiatrists).
• Help clients access other necessary community resources and services.
• Employ/teach specific modalities (depending on training and client needs), such as cognitive behavioral therapy or mindfulness practice.
Specializations / Concentrations
While sometimes counselors may focus solely on depression, often they will have several specialties.
For example, a counselor who is experienced and skilled in helping clients with depression might also specialize in anxiety, postpartum depression and other mood disorders, couples counseling, family therapy, substance abuse, interpersonal relationships, PTSD and trauma, geriatric counseling or other related concentrations. But remember, when you become a counselor, be wary of spreading yourself too thin and stating that you have many, many specialties. Sometimes the best thing you can do for a client is to refer them to a counselor more experienced with their particular concern.
“A depressive disorder is not the same as a passing blue mood. It is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed or wished away. People with a depressive illness cannot merely ‘pull themselves together’ and get better.”
~ Psychology Today (“Psych Basics: Depression”)
Explore Your Career Path
The Educational Journey
To practice as a professional counselor helping clients cope with depression and other mental health concerns, a Master’s degree is required.
You might decide to do all of your university schooling consecutively; alternatively, you may wish to gain career-related experience (while earning an income) in between your Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees.
- Bachelor’s Degree: Relevant undergraduate degrees include a Bachelor’s of Psychology, Human Services or Social Work. Note that some students do not decide until they’re thinking of applying to graduate school that they want to get into counseling and thus come from a variety of undergraduate backgrounds. However, when applying to Master’s programs, there may be undergraduate course pre-requisites in psychology, humanities and statistics.
- Relevant Careers with a Bachelor’s Degree: Social Worker Assistant, Substance Abuse Counselor (with proper certification/licensure), Family Services Worker, Research Assistant, Psychiatric Technician, Case Manager, Human Factors Specialist, Rehabilitation Advisor, Crisis Center Worker, and more.
- Master’s Degree: Relevant graduate degrees include a Master’s in Counseling Psychology, a Master’s in Clinical Counseling, a Master of Counseling, a Master in Counseling, Marriage & Family Therapy, etc.
To practice in an official capacity as a counselor, you must be licensed, i.e. as an LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor) or a similar designation. Requirements to become licensed vary by state, but generally include a Master’s degree, completion of a certain number of supervised clinical hours and passing an exam. You can find your state’s licensure board by visiting the National Board for Certified Counselors’ directory at www.nbcc.org/directory.
Note that there are other appropriate licenses for counselors or psychotherapists that help individuals with depression, including LMFT (licensed marriage and family therapist) and LMHC (licensed mental health counselor).
When Depression Leads to Suicide or Suicidal Thoughts
“Depression is a major risk factor for suicide,” states HelpGuide.Org. “The deep despair and hopelessness that goes along with depression can make suicide feel like the only way to escape the pain.”
Suicide Warning Signs:
- The person is preoccupied with the topic of death.
- The person is actually talking about harming or killing himself/herself.
- The person is giving away possessions and “getting affairs in order”.
- The person is contacting people to say goodbye.
- Alternatively, the person is isolating him or herself completely.
- The person is acting as if he/she has a death wish (acting reckless)
- The person is expressing feelings of being trapped or completely hopeless.
- Reference & Data Information Provided by the Following:
- * May 2012 (for Mental Health Counselors, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)
- ** May 2010 (for Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)
- † Salary data from US BLS http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211014.htm
- ‡ Job Outlook data from US BLS http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/mental-health-counselors-and-marriage-and-family-therapists.htm
- Other Sources/References