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Mental Health Specialist Certification: Salary and Career Facts

Many types of mental health professionals could be considered mental health specialists. Review job options in this field, as well as the education, licensure and certification requirements. Learn more about what you'd do as a mental health specialist.

What You Need to Know

Mental health specialists deal with different types of mental illness, depending on the patients they have. They might specialize in specific areas, such as psychological disorders, drug addiction or Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD), in their careers. There are certain certifications one must meet to be able to work in the field.

Median Annual Salary (2019)* $46,240 for substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health counselors
Education Minimum of a bachelor's degree; supervised clinical experience/internship
Work Environments Nursing homes, rehab centers, clinics and private practices

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is a Mental Health Specialist?

Mental health professionals work with individuals to help them deal with their mental illness so they can achieve a balanced, healthy life. They work with patients on a variety of problems, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), alcohol and drug addiction, psychological disorders and abuse. Psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, social workers and psychiatric nurses may work as mental health professionals.

You'll find mental health specialists in a variety of settings. They may assist psychologists at private offices or may be counselors working at clinics, private practices, nursing homes or rehabilitation centers. These specialists also help treat military personnel. For example, the U.S. Army has mental health specialists who treat soldiers suffering from mental health issues, including PTSD.

What Kind of Education Do I Need?

You'll need an advanced degree to gain certification in the mental health field. In some cases, a bachelor's degree may be acceptable. Depending on the state, you'll need to pass a national or state examination to gain certification or licensure. For some mental health professions, you'll also have to complete supervised clinical experience. Other requirements may include two years of additional clinical supervision.

What Kind of Salary Can I Expect?

The median annual salary of mental health, behavioral disorder and substance abuse counselors was $46,240 as of 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment for these careers is expected to grow by 25% from 2019-2029, which is much faster than average.

How Do I Pursue Entry-Level Positions?

If you're interested in pursing a mental health occupation without completing an advanced degree, you may want to consider an entry-level position as a mental health assistant. These assistants usually work for social workers or counselors. A certificate program may be completed in a year. Some colleges offer an associate's degree as a mental health assistant, which may require an internship. Some programs are also offered online.

What Careers Could I Pursue?

You may be able to specialize in an aspect of mental health treatment. These include clinical or infant mental health. Clinical mental health counselors focus on mental illnesses, while individuals trained in infant mental health interventions work to reduce the risk of behavioral disorders, emotional disorders, neglect or abuse with adolescent or single parents, parents who are in poverty and parents who are struggling with a mental, physical or medical condition.