What Leaders Can Gain From Ideas of Mental Health Counseling

Principles of mental health counseling provide insights about good leadership

Posted Nov 13, 2016

Despite plenty of research about core characteristics of competent and/or effective leadership (e.g., team work, motivation, maintaining talent), few research recognizes how key principles/methods of mental health counseling (MHC) can present insights about competent leadership. There are many MHC ideas and methods that are relevant to leadership, four of which are discussed below:

First, two key components of MHC processes consist of assessment and intervention. For example, effective interventions or decisions and actions result from accurately assessing the reality about clients and the internal and external interacting factors (e.g., the client’s target behavior, medical conditions, cognition, motivation, emotions, and attitudes, history of symptoms and previous interventions,  the social, family and environmental factors, interpersonal trauma, financial status, employment or education, skills, and stressors, as well as the positive factors or absence of the dysfunctions). Similarly, competent leaders ground their planning, decision-making, goal-setting, expectations, and actions on meticulously and accurately assessing the reality of people and contexts, including needs, capacities, situations, competitions, obstacles and facilitating factors, rather than on wishful thinking or fanciful desires, and/or blind confidence.

Second, one of the typical interventions in MHC involves case management by identifying and coordinating available services/ resources for the clients. Likewise, competent leaders recognize that providing and allocating resources, including personnel, space, time, money, apparatus, technology, and other activities in support of team members are vital for attaining goals, objectives and expectations.

Third, effective practitioners or therapists in MHC are fully aware that their expert status in the settings is insufficient for generating changes in client conditions. It is their ability to understand the client’s needs, to involve them in decision-making, and to empower them with resources that produce the desired changes. Comparably, influential leaders understand that their position of authority does not equip them with the power of influence, even though they seem to control reward and punishment for the subordinates. Power comes from empowering the people by understanding their concerns and perspectives, recognizing and meeting their needs and creating opportunities to realize their full potential, and from a shared vision, collaboration, and trust.

Fourth, competent practitioners or therapists take responsibility for the failure in reaching treatment goals, learning from their mistakes or misjudgments, and not casting blame on people who need help. Equally, competent leaders admit their mistakes and take responsibility for poor performance in the organization or agency. Meanwhile, they appreciate the members’ efforts and understand that success comes from the joint efforts, vision, capacity, motivation of the team, of which the leader is only a member.

On the other hand, incompetent or unqualified leaders typically exhibit some or all of the characteristics antithetical to those MHC principles, including:

1. Their goals and expectations are based on wishful thinking or on decrees from a higher authority, rather than on assessing the reality of the needs, people, contexts, situations, and other conditions.

2. Unaware that achieving goals and expectations entails identifying and providing resources for the members.

3. Possess the illusion or false belief that by delivering orders, using threat or intimidation, the intended results will occur.

4. Take credits for others’ achievements while blaming others for the self’s incompetence or failures.


Sun, K. (2013). Correctional counseling: A Cognitive growth Perspective (2nd ed.). Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.