America is experiencing a substantial mental health crisis. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness each year. Mental Health America states that more than half of adults, or 27 million people, with a mental illness do not receive treatment.
Many who suffer from mental health conditions say their needs aren’t met. In fact, the percentage of adults with a mental illness who claim unmet needs for treatment has increased every year since 2011. Startlingly, over 60% of youth with major depression receive no mental health treatment.
With so many suffering from mental illness, the shortage of mental health care professionals has become a growing concern. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, across the U.S. we are only filling 28% of the number of needed healthcare professional positions.
If you’re seeking a career that can change lives and make a large impact, now’s the time to consider a mental health career. From psychologist to art therapist, here are ten10 of the best mental health careers.
Best Mental Health Careers
1. Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
A psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). Specializing in treating those with mental health conditions, PMHNPs have a master’s-level education that qualifies them to diagnose patients and prescribe medication. While PMHNPs can practice independently in some states, they often work collaboratively with primary care physicians or psychiatrists.
Counseling most often refers to a certified clinical mental health counselor (CCMHC). These counselors hold a master’s degree. Trained in topics including mental health, violence and abuse, marriage and family therapy, and human sexuality, CCMHCs must complete supervised clinical hours and receive a professional endorsement.
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor with several years of specialized training in diagnosing and treating those with mental illness. Psychiatrists create a treatment plan for their patients that could include psychotherapy, self-care, and medication. While most psychiatrists practice independently, they often form part of a patient’s care team that might include psychologists, nurses, and licensed therapists.
4. Social Worker
A licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) holds a master’s degree and is trained to help individuals overcome emotional and mental health challenges. Often, they do so by addressing outside social and economic circumstances. Social workers typically take a system-based approach to well-being. Many social workers interact with foster children and abuse victims. It’s common for LCSWs to work with government organizations and schools as they serve those facing difficult life circumstances.
A psychologist is a highly trained mental health professional. Clinical psychologists hold a doctoral level degree. Trained in psychological evaluation and testing, psychologists can diagnose patients, create treatment plans, and provide ongoing counseling. There are many specialties within the field of psychology, including child psychology, social psychology, health psychology, and criminal psychology. Many psychologists pick a niche within the history of psychology, and study the many theories, adding to developing ones. They also carry out research and often publish their work.
6. Special Education Teacher
Teaching special education involves educating students with physical or mental disabilities. Special education (SPED) teachers hold at least a SPED bachelor’s degree, but many have a master’s degree. Needed at all grade levels, special education teachers play a critical role in helping students progress and gain the needed skills to move forward.
7. Art Therapist
Art therapists most often hold a master’s degree. Governed by the American Art Therapy Association, these individuals treat patients by encouraging them to creatively express themselves through art. Art therapists assess patients and help them process emotions through art. Often working in collaboration with a patient’s care team, art therapists hold a safe space for patients to express themselves in nonverbal ways. Because talk therapy may be less successful for certain patients, sometimes healing and the uncovering of emotions can happen through drawing or painting.
8. Marriage and Family Therapist
A marriage and family therapist (MFT) works primarily with couples and families. That said, many MFTs also meet with young children and individuals. With a master’s degree and extensive clinical experience, MFTs are uniquely qualified to provide counseling to families facing difficult circumstances and relationship conflicts.
9. Mental Health Coordinator
Mental health coordinators typically hold a master’s degree and work with patients to provide a connection to mental health resources. They collaborate with a team of healthcare professionals and serve as a liaison between the patient and specialists, including psychiatrists, PMHNPs, counselors, and psychologists. They sometimes meet with patients in their homes, often call them regularly, and do whatever they can to help patients improve their mental wellness and become more self-sufficient.
10. Community Mental Health Educator
As the name implies, community mental health educators teach citizens how to care for their mental health. While a patient educator works with individuals, a community educator works with larger groups. Much of their job is focused on increasing mental health awareness and connecting communities with resources. They may gather data to identify local needs and provide educational materials for schools, workplaces, and other organizations. Often, only a bachelor’s degree is required to become a community mental health educator.
Benefits of Careers in Mental Health
Many people who have mental health struggles suffer in silence. Mental illness, while less visible than physical ailments, can be even more debilitating. Mental health professionals play a critical role in treating the unseen anguish that many face. While working in the mental health field can be challenging, it can also be uniquely rewarding. Here are some of the special benefits of a career in mental health.
Help Others Live Better Lives
Improving the quality of another person’s life is rewarding. The beauty of mental health treatment is that small treatments can often make a big difference. For instance, talk therapy and coping skills can improve someone’s quality of life after just a single visit. Seeing patients improve can make a career in mental health incredibly fulfilling.
Every Day Is Different
The mind is powerful and complex. Mental health professionals get a unique look into the minds of many patients every day. Individuals share deeply personal experiences and thoughts with their mental health professionals. These vulnerable conversations, while difficult and complex, can be beautiful. You can generally count on plenty of variety as you learn about people’s mental struggles and life experiences.
Learn Skills to Improve Your Own Mental Health
Studying mental health can help you focus on your own wellness. Mental health workers quickly learn the importance of caring for their own mental well-being. They also see firsthand the techniques that change lives and the negative thought patterns that can get patients stuck. A holistic view of coping skills and common roadblocks can help mental health providers as they care for their own mental health.
Be Appreciated by Patients, Clients, and Their Families
As a mental health care professional, you can save lives. Those suffering with mental illness might also battle feelings of self-loathing and suicidal ideation. Some patients don’t seek help until they feel there’s no other way out. Even for patients with less severe struggles, relief can fill one’s soul. Seeing the genuine appreciation in the eyes of patients and their families can make all the hours invested with them all worth it.
Stable Job Outlook
The job outlook for mental health counselors is quite favorable. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 22% job growth from 2021 to 2031. Much like physicians, mental health professionals will likely always be in high demand.
What Skills Are Required for a Mental Health Career?
In addition to years of training, it takes a lot of patience and empathy to be successful as a mental health professional. Here are some of the needed skills.
Empathy, Compassion, and Understanding
Dealing with mental health challenges involves digging into emotions. This requires some vulnerability on the part of both the patient and professional. Counselors, psychologists, and other mental health workers must create a safe, calm space for patients to process difficult mental and emotional challenges. For this, a great deal of empathy, compassion, and understanding are needed.
Communicating effectively is the foundation for a successful patient-provider relationship. Communication helps identify challenges and create plans of action for mental improvement. Any mental health professional must have tremendous verbal and nonverbal communication abilities.
Relationship and Rapport Building
Any relationship must be built carefully and intentionally. Establishing rapport is a necessity for mental health professionals. For someone to fully open up, they must trust their mental health provider. Keeping sensitive information private and validating a patient’s feelings go a long way for building trust.
Emotional intelligence is necessary, but so is critical thinking. Mental health professionals should be skilled at taking a step back and thinking through problems. They take time to listen, analyze, and find a good avenue before speaking. They’re good listeners and they don’t jump to conclusions too quickly. They take great care to think carefully as they strictly adhere to any privacy laws and HIPAA regulations.
No two patients are the same. A technique that works for one person may not work for another. Skilled mental health professionals can discern which therapeutic approaches work for each individual.
There are many ethical considerations for mental health workers. They must not only maintain confidentiality, but also help patients tap into their own code of ethics. An understanding of and adherence to ethics is key.
Ability to Set Healthy Professional Boundaries
The patient-provider relationship is a delicate one. Some individuals may feel a strong emotional bond with their counselor. Boundaries must be set as early as possible to maintain confidentiality and a healthy working relationship. For this reason, most mental health workers have office staff that handle scheduling and manage expectations.
Desire to Help Others
Mental health care is a labor of love. Those with a true passion for helping others find the most fulfillment. If you’re only going into a mental health profession for the money, you may burn out quickly. This profession is not for the faint of heart. A passion for what you do will sustain you in dark times where the load seems heavy to bear.
Workplaces That Offer Careers in Mental Health
Mental health care is needed in many areas, including:
Many mental health professionals work alongside other healthcare workers. Some clinics may have a mix of primary care providers, advanced practice nurses, and mental health specialists.
Children and teens need mental health support today more than ever. High schools, middle schools, and even elementary schools often have counselors and school psychologists on staff to support individual students.
Many behavioral missteps are caused by underlying mental health conditions. Mental health professionals work in drug rehab centers, detention centers, and even prisons to support individuals trying to correct previous destructive behaviors.
It’s common for a mental health professional to have their own private practice. This allows for greater flexibility and specialization.
Launch Your Mental Health Career with WGU
There are many mental health career paths, and most of them start with an undergraduate degree. WGU can help with bachelor’s degrees in healthcare and nursing. Our unique programs allow you to work at your pace and earn an affordable degree online. If you already hold a BSN and you’re considering a master’s degree, WGU’s psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner program can help you fast-track your way to a fulfilling career.