How to Pursue a Career in Mental Health

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If you’re committed to helping people make positive changes in their lives, one, the world needs more people like you, and, two, the field of mental health treatment is calling your name. More and more people are investing in their mental wellbeing as stigma decreases, stress rises and services become more accessible. You’re guaranteed to find a job quickly in the field of mental health, especially with the right degree and certification.

There are an incredible variety of possible careers in the growing world of mental health. Though there is some overlap in what these professionals actually do, there are several distinct avenues to take if you’re looking into mental health jobs. 

Here are the most common career paths in mental health and what you can do with them. Keep in mind that different mental health job descriptions and requirements differ by state.

Counselor

Counselors offer advice and direction to their clients. They are trained to provide psychotherapy (aka talk therapy) and typically specialize their practice to work with a specific population. Popular areas of specialty are drug and alcohol addiction, grief, employment, school counseling, marriage and family counseling and so on. If you’re interested in counseling, it’s good to have a group in mind that you want to work with when you’re obtaining your degree.

The steps:

  1. Earn a Bachelor’s degree;
  2. Earn a Master’s degree;
  3. Take the National Counselor Examination (or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination);
  4. Get field experience;
  5. Get licensed by your state;
  6. Continue your education to stay certified.

Social Worker

Social workers work in communities connecting people to resources and providing counseling to their clients. They are familiar with local services and assist people with logistical tasks to organize their lives, decreasing stress and therefore improving mental health outcomes. Social workers work from a holistic lens, often helping clients with finances, education, legal matters, housing, obtaining food and a host of other daily matters.

Social workers work with all populations, from working in schools to help veterans, working in elder care facilities to addiction recovery centers. Social workers are often trained for general practice and then specialize when they seek an advanced degree.

The steps:

  1. Earn a Bachelor’s degree;
  2. Earn a Master’s degree (some professions only require a Bachelor’s degree);
  3. Take the Association of Social Work Boards Licensing Examination;
  4. Get field experience;
  5. Get licensed by your state;
  6. Continue your education to keep your license.

Psychologist

If you’re considering psychology, you’d be smart to consider your career goals early on. It takes a long time to become a psychologist and you’ll be in school for a while before you are practicing full-time in the field.

Psychologists work on treating mental health disorders, often through private practice. They also can be researchers, investigating human behavior and effective methods of treatment. Psychologists are experts in evaluating and diagnosing mental health disorders, too. Although they can suggest and implement interventions, they cannot make recommendations for medication or prescribe it.

The steps:

  1. Earn a Bachelor’s degree;
  2. Earn a Master’s degree (or go straight to a Doctoral program);
  3. Earn a Doctoral degree (some professions only require a Master’s degree);
  4. Complete post-doctoral training;
  5. Take the Examination for the Professional Practice in Psychology Examination;
  6. Get licensed by your state;
  7. Renew your license when necessary.

Psychiatrist

Like psychology, you’ll want to get a head start on this career path. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in diagnosing and treating mental health and behavioral disorders. They are most similar to psychologists; however, they complete extra training so that they can be certified to prescribe medication as part of treatment and approach treatment from a more medical background. Many work in private practice, but they are also employed in other settings like hospitals and addiction recovery facilities.

Psychiatrists are most commonly brought onto the scene when an assessment, evaluation or diagnosis is necessary, but they can also provide traditional psychotherapy. Because of advanced education and inclusion in the medical community, psychiatrists make much more than the other professions mentioned above.

The steps:

  1. Earn a Bachelor’s degree;
  2. Earn a Doctoral degree (medical school);
  3. Complete a residency;
  4. Get supervised field experience;
  5. Get licensed and board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology;
  6. Renew your license or certification when necessary.

Most mental health jobs will follow one of these four paths. There are a few other avenues to pursue a career in mental health, but those opportunities are far and few between because most employers will be looking for the credentials that come with the jobs listed above. 

With such a hot job market in mental health careers, you’ll have no problem finding employment when you become a counselor, social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist. Although the work will be tough some days, know that you’ll impact people’s lives in a tremendous way.

If you’re serious about a career in mental health careers, The Light Program might be the place for you. The Light Program offers outpatient mental health treatment to adolescents and adults both virtually and in-person. Check out the careers page for mental health job descriptions for opportunities that are open now!