Mental Health Therapist Career Guide

Overview

Today’s healthcare system is incredibly large and just as complex as it is astonishing. People all around the world rely on trained and talented individuals like doctors, nurses, technicians, and other medical professionals. In an increasingly hectic and stressful world, particularly now that mental illnesses are recognized and treated accordingly rather than immediately grounds for institutionalization, those who suffer from psychological problems can get necessary treatment much easier than ever before. Mental health counselors and therapists deal with these issues to help patients lead healthy, successful lives. If you enjoy helping others and you have a natural talent for listening to and providing solutions to others’ problems, you might consider a challenging but rewarding career in mental health counseling or therapy.

Job Duties

Mental health therapists have different tasks according to their chosen specialty. Some may deal exclusively with young children, others with adolescents, still others with those seeking treatment for substance abuse and addiction. Others might be more generalized therapists who treat patients struggling with anything from marital problems to job stress. Regardless of their specific sub-field, they all are responsible for helping their patients overcome whatever barriers prevent them from being healthy and successful members of society. By remaining patient, compassionate, and non-judgmental, therapists try to bring about positive changes in behavior and attitude in their clients. Although therapists deal primarily with their patients more than they interact with other members of the healthcare profession, they might still sometimes refer a patient to a psychiatrist who can prescribe medication to assist recovery efforts.

Mental health therapists, in collaboration with mental health technicians, offer their services for the betterment of individuals, families, couples, and entire communities. They must be familiar with and comfortable treating a wide variety of mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Job Outlook

In response to increased federal funds for the construction and improvement of mental health facilities and networks, the demand for therapists will necessarily rise. Mental health therapists are employed in a variety of settings such as correctional institutions, schools and universities, private practices, residential care facilities, mental health centers, drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers, and retirement homes. Due to the often unpredictable nature of mental illness, therapists must be prepared to work irregular hours when necessary, which might include long hours and night shifts.

Salary Trends

As of June 2012, the average annual salary for professional mental health therapists was about $59,000 (indeed.com). Just like any other job, though, that number depends heavily on experience, education, employer, and individual state regulations.

Educational Requirements

The first step to entering this field is to attain a bachelor’s degree in psychology from an accredited post-secondary institution. If a traditional campus-based education isn’t possible, students can opt instead for an online degree program that lets them fit their studies around their busy lives.

Graduates may choose to undergo voluntary certification to prove their proficiency in mental health counseling strategies and to make themselves more marketable to potential employers. Many employees prefer to hire those with 1-3 years of clinical counseling experience, so it’s a good idea for students to get as much supervised clinical time as possible.

In some states, therapists who hope to work in a professional practice must complete a master’s degree in counseling or psychology, and then be licensed by the National Board of Certified Counselors, or NBCC. After that, they can expect to work in a clinical setting for at least two years before establishing their own practice, if desired.

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