The last couple of years have highlighted the impact that mental health can have on our lives and highlighted the important role that mental health providers play. And yet, even though 1 in 5 people in the country are affected by mental illness, estimates from 2021 show that about 37% of the population lives in areas with shortages of mental health professionals.
This is good news for the growing number of people who are entering the mental health field each year. However, for those considering careers in mental health, untangling the ins and outs of career options—not to mention the education required to achieve them—can still be daunting for people.
Mental Health Career Opportunities and Education
If you’re interested in joining the ranks of professionals who play a valuable role in helping improve peoples’ lives, you might consider any of the following mental health careers and their respective educational requirements:
Mental Health Counselor
Depending on the program, may or may not require a bachelor’s degree, sometimes requires a master’s degree.
Mental Health Social Worker/Case Manager/Practitioner
Typically requires a bachelor’s degree, sometimes a master’s degree.
Mental Health Therapist
Requires a master’s degree and additional certification.
Substance Abuse Counselor/Licensed Drug and Alcohol Counselor (LADC)
May require a bachelor’s degree, sometimes a master’s degree, and often additional certification.
Requires a bachelor’s degree and MD (doctor of medicine), plus residency and licensure.
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
Requires a bachelor’s degree and MSN (Master of Science in Nursing) as well as certification/licensure.
Requires a bachelor’s degree* and a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) or PsyD (Doctor of Psychology)**, as well as licensure.
*Relevant bachelor’s degrees typically include fields such as social work or psychology; however, depending on the organization or school, it is sometimes possible to enter the professional world or graduate school without a degree in those subjects as long as you have an appropriate number of credits in those areas along with experience.
**Note that some doctoral programs require applicants to have a master’s degree before applying.
Note that licensure and certification requirements for careers in mental health will vary by state, so make sure you familiarize yourself with the regulations in your state. The type of certification required will also depend on your level of education. For example, in Minnesota, the licensing requirements are as follows:
A bachelor’s degree in social work requires an LSW (Licensed Social Worker) license
A master’s degree in social work requires an LGSW (Licensed Graduate Social Worker) license
Pending the completion of your required supervised hours as an LGSW, you need to obtain LICSW (Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker) credentials
What It’s Like Being a Mental Health Professional
Each professional in the field has different reasons for seeking out careers in mental health, and each person’s experience of the mental healthcare field is unique. However, many mental healthcare providers’ stories contain common elements. They often describe being driven by a desire to help people, and list compassion and strong interpersonal skills as being essential for anyone entering the field. While their work is often challenging, they report feeling a sense of fulfillment when they are able to help their clients overcome problems in their lives.
RADIAS Health provides patient-centered integrated healthcare services to people suffering from mental illness, substance use, or co-occurring disorders. Our services encompass primary care and behavioral health services delivered by compassionate, skilled health care and support staff. In addition, our care includes supplementary services such as case management, supportive housing, homeless services, residential services, outpatient DBT treatment, and more. If you or someone you know could benefit from our mission, contact us today or consider donating!