Mental Health Professions

Mental health professionals treat patients with a variety of disorders, including anxiety and depression. Continue reading to learn more about career and degree requirements for mental health specialists, as well as what you might earn as a psychologist or psychiatrist.

Is a Mental Health Profession for Me?

Career Overview

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), mental illnesses are disorders that affect how people function, think, feel and interact with others (www.nami.org). Common mental disorders include bipolar or post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and schizophrenia. Mental health professionals assess and treat behavioral or psychological disorders, counsel patients and study ways to prevent mental health issues. Careers in mental health generally require completion of a master's or doctoral degree program.

Career Options

Entry-level jobs in mental health and more advanced positions can be found in hospitals, mental health facilities and community health organizations. Opportunities may also be available in private clinics, correctional facilities and nursing homes.

Employment and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected a 12% increase in employment for clinical and counseling psychologists nationwide between 2012 and 2022, with a 29% growth in jobs expected for mental health counselors during the same period. Additionally, the BLS also reported an 18% increase in openings for physicians, including psychiatrists, through 2022.

As of May 2013, the median annual salary for a psychiatrist was $178,950. In the same year, clinical and counseling psychologists made a median of $67,760, while mental health counselors earned $40,580 (www.bls.gov).

How Can I Work in a Mental Health Profession?

Educational Requirements and Options

While few undergraduate degree programs exist specifically in mental health, you can find programs in counseling or psychology, as well as those that meet pre-medical requirements, such as physics, chemistry or biology. According to the BLS, you must have at least a master's degree in a relevant field of study to become a licensed counselor; clinical positions require a doctoral degree in counseling. According to the National Board for Certified Counselors, mental health counselors need additional training and experience (www.nbcc.org).

Master's Degree Programs

In a master's degree program in mental health, you may study drug and alcohol dependency and how it affects individuals and the community at large. Courses often found in a mental health curriculum can also teach you how to evaluate and respond to patients who are suffering from mental health issues and trauma. You'll also study the history and different types of mental disorders and receive instruction in counseling techniques.

Ph.D. and M.D. Programs

At the doctoral level, you may pursue a Ph.D. in health services, health policy, mental health or psychology. As an aspiring psychiatrist, you'll need to complete a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) program. Graduate courses can cover topics in medical treatment development or procedural cost analysis, administrative strategies and health care policies. You might also study medical ethics and the effects of medical disorders on the brain.

In addition to coursework, an M.D. program requires several years of clerkships and clinical training. As a Ph.D. candidate, you'll complete clinical training, conduct research and write a doctoral dissertation.

Licensing and Professional Requirements

According to the BLS, licensing requirements for clinical or counseling psychologists, as well as independent practitioners, include completion of a doctoral program and a passing score on a professional exam. You'll also have to participate in an internship and acquire between one and two years of experience in the field. Psychiatrists, who use hospitalization, psychoanalysis, medication and psychotherapy to treat mental illness, must have a medical degree and complete a residency in psychiatry.

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