Can I Become a Counsellor if I Take Antidepressants?

There is a common misunderstanding in the field of mental health counselling that those who use antidepressants will not be able to help patients struggling with their mental health. If you’re considering becoming a counsellor but are concerned about how your medication could affect your opportunities, this article is for you!

The Legality of Counselling and Antidepressants

Anyone may become a counsellor in the UK, even if they use antidepressants. As long as they do so in a way that doesn’t compromise their professional standing, counsellors are free to access mental health support when they need it. During counselling training, the emphasis is usually on your skills, knowledge, and capacity to provide good counselling rather than any particular medication you may be on.

Understanding Medication and Mental Health

Dispelling the Stigma

Many people are still uncomfortable talking to others about their mental health, let alone taking medication for it. A recent study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found that out of a cohort of 678 UK-based clinical psychologists, up to 75% had experienced mental health issues. Most had opted not to disclose this to their colleagues at work due to concerns about how it would affect their career. Many practitioners question their ability to continue treating those with mental health issues while struggling in some areas themselves. Fighting this prejudice is crucial, as treatment for mental health conditions may be lifesaving.

Medication as a Support, Not a Hindrance

When prescribed and managed properly by healthcare experts, antidepressants can help stabilise mood, relieve symptoms of depression, and empower patients to better manage their mental health. Antidepressants work by increasing the levels of chemicals in the brain (neurotransmitters). Certain chemicals, like serotonin and noradrenaline, are thought to affect our mood and emotions. And, contrary to popular belief, antidepressants don’t impair your capacity for connection, empathy, or cognitive ability. They have the potential to improve these and can even boost your ability to understand and empathise with clients struggling similarly.

How to Manage Your Mental Health as a Counsellor

The Importance of Self-Awareness in Counselling

A good counsellor is someone who is self-aware. Understanding your own emotional and mental states is key to being able to help others understand and manage their own. Being self-aware can involve admitting to yourself (and another mental health practitioner) that there’s something wrong, even when it’s difficult. This self-awareness can be a valuable asset in your counselling sessions, as you have a better perspective on emotions, triggers, and coping mechanisms, allowing you to level with your clients.

Support, Professional Guidance, and Disclosure

Therapists and counsellors need to be able to identify when they are struggling and seek help. To keep providing support to their own clients while maintaining their own mental health, they should seek supervision, participate in treatment themselves, and have a solid support system. In the UK, the rules about disclosing antidepressant use vary. Check your employment contract and the code of ethics set out by your professional body if you’re not sure whether you need to disclose your medication.

Holding Yourself Accountable

Being a counsellor means you have greater insight into mental health than the average person. On one hand, this can be useful when facing mental health problems of your own, but on the other, it requires you to hold yourself to a higher standard. If you feel as though your mental state is affecting your capacity to care for your clients, you need to take a step back and consult your own doctor. You have a responsibility not only to yourself but to your clients, too.

On a similar note, self-care is paramount when it comes to managing your mental health. Carve some time out of your counselling schedule to care for yourself. Remember, you can’t pour from an empty cup.

Good Counsellors Seek Treatment for Their Mental Health Struggles

Finally, the notion that people who use antidepressants or other medications cannot be counsellors is simply untrue. There’s no legal reason why a counsellor shouldn’t offer support to clients when they themselves are receiving treatment. They may even find that their skills improve as a result of increased self-awareness, empathy, and comprehension of mental health issues.

Read our guide on How to Be a Counsellor.

To learn more about our counselling courses, click here.

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