Taking the First Steps: A Guide Starting Your Mental Health Career

The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that one in five U.S. adults suffer from mental illness each year. That’s why mental health care providers are our frontline defense. They work every day to protect us all from this disease.

If you’re interested in a mental health career, consider this guide to get you started. You’ll find out about the different mental health care jobs there are and how to train for them. Consider these steps to find your next professional calling.

Mental Health Care Careers: A Snapshot

Mental health professionals earn roughly $47,600 per year. These careers will grow by twenty-five percent by the year 2029.

Mental health care providers provide treatment services to groups or individuals. Some treat a specific population, such as children or the elderly.

Mental health care can cover a variety of conditions. These conditions include grief, depression, or suicidal tendencies.

Types of Mental Health Career Fields

Mental health careers range from individual counseling to group therapy. These careers are instrumental to providing needed care to patients. Here’s a look at some of them:

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse

A psychiatric nurse mental health nurse (PMHN) is a registered nurse. They work with families, individuals, and communities to assess their mental health needs.

They’ll diagnose patients with disorders and administer medication. A PMHN will also develop a nursing diagnosis plan and test its effectiveness.

A PMHN must complete their registered nurse (RN) training. The RN training is a two-year program that leads to an associate’s degree in nursing. Once candidates complete these two-year programs, they must pass the RN licensing exam.

A PMHN role is an advanced role. This job requires further education such as a bachelor’s and master’s or doctoral degree.

Professionals with these advanced degrees work in specific roles. These roles include university educator or consultant.


Psychiatrists are medical doctors that diagnose and treat emotional and mental health disorders. With this dual training, they understand the relationship between medical and emotional illness. A psychiatrist uses a common form of treatment called psychotherapy.

Psychotherapy is a talking relationship between the patient and therapist. Psychotherapy controls and eliminates any disabling symptoms so that the patient functions better.

Treatment sometimes only takes a few sessions over a month. It might also need many sessions over a number of years.

Psychiatrists must graduate from medical school. They should also become licensed to practice medicine within their state.

They’re also required to complete a four-year psychiatry residency. During residency, candidates learn how to diagnose mental health disorders. They’ll also learn how to prescribe psychiatric medications.

Once residency is over, psychiatrists can take a written and oral exam. The American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology sponsors this exam.

If they pass, they become a “board-certified” psychiatrist. Psychiatrists need to pass recertification every 10 years.


Psychologists study human mental processes and behavior. They observe and record how someone relates to others and their environment. There are many specialty areas of psychology careers.

Some psychologists do research or work directly with clients. Others work on a healthcare team. These teams include doctors and other professionals to promote wellness.

To become a psychologist, you must first earn a bachelor’s degree in either psychology or a related field. Candidates can choose to pursue an advanced degree at the master’s or the doctorate level.

To become a licensed psychologist you must earn a doctorate degree in psychology. Students can choose from two different degree programs.

The Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in psychology focuses more on research. The Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) focuses more on clinical work.

Each US state has its own licensing requirements for psychologists. Most licensure requires passing a two-part exam.

Candidates should also complete an internship from the American Psychological Association. They can choose internships from the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers.

Mental Health Rehabilitation Assistant

Mental health rehabilitation assistants assist psychiatrists and doctors. These professionals work in mental health urgent care facilities, and psychiatric offices.

A mental health rehabilitation assistant monitors a patients’ daily routine. Their job is to make sure the patient’s environment is safe.

They’ll record a patient’s vital signs and help with everyday tasks like dressing and bathing. They’ll show patients how to use their equipment.

Education requirements for mental health rehabilitation assistants vary by state. Most states require a two-year degree with a concentration on mental health assisting.

These programs are available in person or online. One example is the mental health rehabilitation technician program at Intercoast Colleges (intercoast.edu.). They accept students with no previous experience in the mental health field.

States will vary on their licensing requirements for mental health rehabilitation assistants. Most licensing programs need candidates to pass an exam. They’ll also need to complete an accredited program as well.

Family and Marriage Counselors

Family and marriage therapists treat similar disorders that psychologists see. These disorders include substance abuse and depression.

Their focus is on the problems that are hurting the family unit. These problems range from domestic violence to adolescent behavior problems.

These therapists provide a range of counseling services. Services include child and relationship counseling. They may also provide premarital, separation, and divorce counseling services as well.

Family and marriage counselors must have a license to practice in their home state. Licensure requires that candidates have their master’s degree. These candidates should also have two years of clinical experience.

Most master’s degree programs offer a concentration in marriage and family therapy. You can also find these master’s degree classes online as well. Check the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE) for more.

What’s Your Next Step?

If you’re ready to make a positive impact on the world of mental illness, then you can start today. Narrow your career choices based on your experience and area of interest.

Are you ready to help repair the fragile relationships in a family? If so, then do some reading on the COAMFTE website to find an accredited master’s program.

Are you interested in researching human emotions and behavior in a laboratory setting? Then a career as a psychologist might be the right job for you.

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