Career Opportunities

Looking for a career in mental health?

Mental health is a broad field with a wide range of career choices. Clinicians help their clients deal with a variety of life stresses and problems, including addiction and substance abuse, problems with self-esteem, aging-related mental health issues, family and marital problems, grief, anger, and depression, along with many other emotional and behavioral issues. Mental health professionals can also be found in community and government agencies, hospitals, hospice programs, and research laboratories.

The most basic divisions of the field are as follows:

  • Professional Counselors: These master’s-level professionals use mental health, psychological, and human development principles to address issues of wellness, pathology, personal growth, and career development. They are both employed in and covered by managed care organizations and health plans. In addition, many professional counselors operate private practices.
  • Social Workers: Social workers are licensed at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels. They help clients function optimally, with an emphasis on their environments. Most are employed by the healthcare and social assistance industries, and a large number also work for government agencies. General divisions within the field are as follows:
    • Child, family, and school social workers
    • Medical and public health social workers
    • Mental health and substance abuse social workers
    • Social work planners and policymakers
  • Psychologists: These professionals hold a PhD and may choose to be counseling psychologists or clinical psychologists. Counseling psychologists generally counsel people in private practice, whereas clinical psychologists may work in more clinical settings, such as hospitals and criminal justice systems. Professional psychology careers generally fall into one of the following fields:
    • Industrial-organizational psychology
    • Clinical psychology
    • Counseling psychology
    • Developmental psychology
    • Forensic psychology
    • School psychology
    • Social psychology
    • Neuropsychology
    • Research
    • Related professional careers
  • Psychiatrists: Psychiatrists are advanced-practice medical doctors who specialize in the physical causes and effects of mental illness. Some focus on talk therapy, helping patients heal through talking about their problems; others focus on treating illness with medication. Many combine these approaches.
  • Psychiatric Nurses: Psychiatric nurses at the registered nurse (RN) level work with individuals, families, groups, and communities. Common work settings include hospitals, outpatient facilities, health departments, mental health agencies, and long-term care centers. 
  • Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners: These advanced-practice registered nurses (APRNs) have earned master’s degrees in psychiatric and mental health nursing. In addition to the functions performed by RN psychiatric nurses, APRNs also assess, diagnose, and treat psychiatric disorders and potential mental health problems. They are qualified to practice independently.
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