How to Start a Career in Mental Health
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How to Start a Career in Mental Health

There are some careers that pay the bills and others that are true vocations. Working in mental health often falls into the latter. You need to have a keen interest in psychology and a passion to help others in order to succeed in this industry. Yes, there are career paths in mental health that don’t have you working one-on-one with patients, but you will be hard-pressed to find an option that doesn’t include working with people at all.

You can work as a therapist, a coach, a psychologist, a psychiatrist, in research, with groups, or alone. There are many ways that you can help and progress your career through mental health, and a few great tips to help you get started:

Understand Your Options

There are many, many options when it comes to working in mental health, and it can help a lot to understand the differences between various positions and roles:

  • Psychiatrists: Psychiatrists, for example, work mainly in diagnosing and treating mental illnesses. Psychiatrists will need to complete medical school and finish a psychiatric residency before they can apply for their license.
  • Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners are APRNs who have earned an MSN in mental health. They are highly qualified mental health practitioners who combine a background of nursing with mental health to help others.
  • Psychologists: These are highly advanced therapists who have obtained either a PhD or a PsyD, and often specialize in one area of mental health.
  • Therapists typically have a Master’s degree and can help guide and offer holistic guidance for a number of mental health concerns, as well as relationship struggles and stressors.
  • Counselors and coaches: Counselors and coaches also provide support, though they have more diverse backgrounds in psychology and mental health. Having a BSc in psychology is still a great place to start for these roles.

Technically you can take your background in the psychology behind mental health as well and can successfully work in sales, marketing, HR, and more if you ever need to change careers later on.

You’ll Want to Specialize

There are a few ways you will always want to specialize. The first is within your own community, particularly if you come from a minority background. People from minority backgrounds have different cultural identities, beliefs, and challenges that can be difficult for therapists to navigate unless they come from the same background. There are more than enough clients and potential patients out there for you to specialize in your background to directly help your community heal and thrive.

You should also consider which area of mental health you want to focus on. You can specialize in helping relationships, children, those with certain mental illnesses, those grieving, those dealing with PTSD, those who have had sexual trauma, physical trauma, and so on. There are so many issues that will impact a person’s mental health, and having someone who specializes in that strain of damage or concern can help significantly with the outcome.

Getting Qualified

You will need proper qualifications in order to work in mental health, with the level of service you can offer to depend entirely on the formal qualifications you currently have.

Choose the Right Bachelor’s in Psychology

There are various different routes and roles you can take when working in mental health, and one of the universal requirements is going to be a bachelor’s degree in psychology. This can then be used to help you go on to become a counselor, or you can use it to further your qualifications with a master’s in psychology and even a doctorate in psychology.

It is one of the most important building blocks you’ll need to get started with your career, and you have options. If you have just graduated from high school, you can jump right in with a campus experience and a full-time degree. If you already have a degree and are instead looking to change your career into mental health, then a good alternative is to go for an online bachelor’s degree in psychology.

You can even transfer your existing credits towards this undergraduate degree, making it faster and easier to earn your next credential and get started on your new path.

Ideally Earn Your Master’s

To become a fully qualified psychologist, you will need to earn a doctorate, but to operate as a therapist, you will need to earn a master’s degree in most cases. This is the best way to get started in mental health, as you can work as a licensed professional with a master’s degree and can always later on work towards your PhD or PsyD if it suits you later on.

Reasons to Earn Your Doctorate

Earning your doctorate means being able to legally operate as a psychologist. Psychologists earn more, can operate independently with their own client list, and can also specialize in an area they are most interested in. Their work is often split between research and helping their patients with their individual goals. Earning your doctorate does take time, as you will need to choose a project, have that project backed by a university, and then complete it and have it published, at which point a review board will go through your work and determine whether you have earned your PhD or not.

Find the Right Place for Your Clinical Hours

For the best results, you will want to be selective with where you earn your clinical hours. If you want to specialize in an area of mental health, then you will want to ensure that where you do your residency is in line with this specialization if you can. There are many options, so just choose the option that will help you learn and practice in what you are most keenly interested in.

Be Patient with Yourself

In most cases, it takes over a decade to become a fully-fledged psychologist, and potentially even longer to find your stride and really start helping people the best you can. This can feel like a very long time, so be patient with yourself and overwork yourself. You need to enjoy the journey in order to be happy with the destination.

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