Skills for Mental Health Care Workers

Updated February 21, 2017

Mental health care workers perform a wide range of duties involving mental health-care patients and patients with substance abuse problems. They work in mental health-care facilities, rehabilitation centres, hospitals and schools. To be an effective mental health-care worker you need a strong fundamental education along with practical skills.


Working in the mental health-care field is specialised work that requires a degree or certificate from an accredited university or training program. Some states require mental health-care workers who perform certain duties, such as leading group therapy sessions, to hold a certification in the field. This background ensures that a mental health-care worker has a thorough understanding of the causes and symptoms of common mental-health conditions.


Mental health-care workers need strong communication skills in written and verbal forms. Patients may suffer from any number of communication impairments, which makes carrying on a conversation or delivering instructions especially difficult. Mental health-care providers may need to work with patients for an extended period of time before discovering which methods of communication work best, adding patience to the list of necessary skills.


Most mental health-care workers see multiple patients in group sessions or during a shift. This means that time management and organisation are extremely important skills. Mental health-care workers also need to fill out status reports and respond to notes from colleagues and doctors. Paperwork in the mental health-care field can make the difference between an effective treatment or a major mistake with serious consequences.

Stress Management

The mental health-care environment is stressful, despite health-care workers' best efforts to provide a quiet, calm environment for patients. Erratic or disturbing behaviour from patients is common and care providers may not be able to solve long-term problems or provide relief on every occasion. To remain effective over the course of a career, a mental-health worker needs to find a way to manage daily stress.

Conflict Resolution

While most mental health-care recipients aren't violent, some can become aggressive under certain conditions. In situations where patients live together in a clinical environment, interpersonal conflict may develop over time or occur suddenly and without warning. Anyone who works in a mental health-care job needs to know how to quickly diffuse problems, as well as when to ask for help before an incident escalates and poses a danger to patients and workers.


State laws and organizational policies demand confidentiality when it comes to patient treatment. Mental health care workers have a similar obligation to doctors to remain discrete, offering important information to colleagues and doctors but treating patients with respect and offering privacy.

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