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10 Best Mental Health Careers and Why You Should Pursue One

Feb 23, 2024

A career in mental health can be profound and rewarding, offering a unique opportunity to make a positive impact on individual lives and on society by fostering mental well-being and resilience in others. Mental health professionals guide individuals through their most vulnerable moments, facilitating healing, growth, and connection. This career can challenge you to grow intellectually, emotionally, and professionally as you learn and apply therapeutic techniques and approaches. Professionals in this field contribute meaningfully to alleviating the struggles associated with mental health issues and often experience profound satisfaction from witnessing clients evolve and thrive.

To learn more about a specific role that speaks to you, explore these 10 top careers in mental health and step into a role where you can thrive and make a significant difference.

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 individuals with mental health conditions, PMHNPs typically hold a master's degree 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.

2. Counselor

Counseling often refers to the role of a certified clinical mental health counselor (CCMHC). These counselors typically 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 before they begin working with clients.

3. Psychiatrist

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor with several years of specialized training in diagnosing and treating individuals with mental illness. Psychiatrists create treatment plans 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 consisting of 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 systems-based approach to well-being. Many social workers interact with foster children and abuse victims. It's common for LCSWs to be employed by government organizations and schools as they serve individuals facing challenging life circumstances.

5. Psychologist

A psychologist is a highly trained mental health professional. Clinical psychologists hold a doctoral-level degree. Psychologists trained in psychological evaluation and testing 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 choose a niche and study theories related to that subfield, conducting research and publishing their findings in order to add to the development of new theories.

6. Special Education Teacher

Special education (SPED) teachers work with students with physical or mental disabilities. Special education teachers typically hold at least a SPED bachelor's degree, but many have a master's degree. Vg at all grade levels, special education teachers are critical in helping students progress and gain the necessary 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 express themselves creatively. 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 nonverbally. Because talk therapy may be less successful for certain patients, sometimes healing occurs by uncovering emotions 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 counsel 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 them with a connection to mental health resources. These coordinators collaborate with a team of healthcare professionals and serve as liaisons between the patient and specialists such as psychiatrists, PMHNPs, counselors, and psychologists. They sometimes meet with patients in their homes, call them regularly, and do whatever they can to help patients improve their mental wellness and self-sufficiency.  

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. A bachelor's degree is typically 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 just as debilitating. Mental health professionals are critical 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 unique 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 minor treatments can often make a big difference. For instance, talk therapy and learning about coping skills can enhance someone's quality of life after just a single visit to a mental health professional. 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 wellness. Mental health workers quickly learn the importance of caring for their 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 mental health.

Be Appreciated by Patients, Clients, and Their Families 

As a mental health care professional, you can save lives and catalyze generational change. Those suffering from mental illness may battle feelings of self-loathing and suicidal ideation, and some patients don't seek help until they feel there's no way out. Mental health professionals help provide relief and a new perspective on these major concerns as well as for smaller issues, positively impacting their patients’ entire social circles. 

Stable Job Outlook

The job outlook for mental health counselors is quite favorable. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an 18% job growth from 2022 to 2032. 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 for both the patient and the professional. Counselors, psychologists, and other mental health workers must create a safe, calm space for patients to process complex 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 effective, professional, and calming verbal and nonverbal communication abilities.

Relationship and Rapport Building

Relationships 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. Creating a safe space and validating a patient's feelings go a long way in building trust.

Critical Thinking

Emotional intelligence is necessary, but so is critical thinking. Mental health professionals should be skilled at stepping back and thinking through problems. They take time to listen, analyze, and find a promising avenue before speaking. They're good listeners and don't jump to conclusions too quickly. 

Good Judgment

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. 

Strong Ethics 

There are many ethical considerations for mental health workers. They must maintain confidentiality and help patients tap into their own code of ethics. An understanding of ethics within psychology is key. Mental health professionals must also strictly adhere to privacy laws and HIPAA regulations.

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 early 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 passionate about 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 your work will sustain you in dark times when the load seems heavy.

Workplaces That Offer Careers in Mental Health 

Mental health care is needed in many areas, including:

Healthcare Facilities

Many mental health professionals work alongside other healthcare workers. Some clinics may employ a mix of primary care providers, advanced practice nurses, and mental health specialists. 


Many children and teens benefit from mental health support just as much as adults do. High schools, middle schools, and even elementary schools often have counselors and school psychologists on staff who speak with students individually. 

Correctional Facilities

Many behavioral missteps are caused or influenced by underlying mental health conditions. Mental health professionals often work in drug rehab centers, detention centers, and even prisons to support individuals trying to correct previous destructive behaviors.

Private Practices

It's common for a mental health professional to have a private practice. This allows for greater flexibility and specialization but involves more management and running their own business. 

Launch Your Mental Health Career with WGU

Embarking on a career devoted to mental health offers personal fulfillment and allows you to make a meaningful difference in people's lives. With WGU's bachelor's in psychology, you'll build a strong foundation for your future profession. This program is carefully designed with input from industry experts, ensuring that students understand essential human behavior theories while gaining the real-world skills they'll use on the job. WGU’s flexible, online format caters to busy working adults, allowing them to balance their education with their existing schedules. With our competency-based education model, you can pass courses as quickly as you master the material, potentially graduating faster and saving time and money. Whether your goal is to enter into a career in counseling, social work, or another mental health role, WGU's psychology degree is a stepping stone to achieving profound changes in the lives of individuals and communities.

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