Are you interested in learning to treat patients who suffer from mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety and personality disorders? Professionals in this industry work to treat and prevent a variety of such disorders. Continue reading to learn about the requirements and the career responsibilities to determine if it's a good fit for you.
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 depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and post traumatic stress disorder. Mental health professionals assess and treat mental illness, counsel patients, promote mental health and study ways to prevent mental disorders. Careers in mental health generally require completing a master's or doctoral degree program.
Master's programs in mental health can address disorders that stem from dependence on drugs and alcohol and how they affect individuals and the community at large. Courses often included in a mental health program might also address theories specific to mental health counseling, counseling techniques, methods for responding to traumas, types of mental disorders, methods for evaluating mental health and the history of mental disorders. Mental health doctoral programs that can lead to a career in mental health include a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Health Policy, Mental Health or Psychology or a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) in Psychiatry. Courses can cover medical ethics, administration tactics, medical treatment development, medical procedure cost analysis, health care policies and the effects of medical disorders on the brain. In addition to coursework, earning your M.D. requires several years of clerkships and clinical training, while earning your Ph.D. requires clinical training in combination with research and a doctoral dissertation.
NAMI states that one in 17 Americans live with a serious mental illness and nearly a quarter of American adults struggle with a mental disorder every year. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that between 2008 and 2018 the employment growth should increase by 11% for clinical and counseling psychologists, by 22% for physicians, including psychiatrists, and by 24% for mental health counselors (www.bls.gov). As of May 2010, the median annual salary was $66,810 for clinical and counseling psychologists, $38,150 for mental health counselors and $164,220 for psychiatrists.
Mental health career opportunities exist in hospitals, mental health facilities, community health organizations, private clinics, correctional facilities and nursing homes. Few undergraduate degree programs exist specifically in mental health, and a more common route to a mental health profession is an undergraduate degree in counseling or psychology or a degree that meets pre-medical requirements, such as physics, chemistry or biology. The BLS states that in most cases, you must have at least a master's degree to become a licensed counselor, but counseling doctoral degree programs are also available. According to the National Board for Certified Counselors (www.nbcc.org), becoming a Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor requires additional training and experience. Mental health counselors treat people who have mental disorders by using different therapies and working with other mental health professionals.
To have your own practice as a clinical or counseling psychologist you must earn a doctorate in psychology and meet your state's licensing and certification requirements. According to the BLS, licensure requirements include earning a doctorate, completing required internships and gaining professional experience. Psychiatrists, who use hospitalization, psychoanalysis, medication and psychotherapy to treat mental illness, must have a medical degree and complete a residency in psychiatry.