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Mental Health Careers

According the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 18.5 percent of adults in America experienced mental illness within the previous year. With such a significant portion of the population living with mental illnesses, the diagnosis and treatment of psychiatric and psychological disorders is crucial.

Job Types in the Mental Health Field

A wide range of opportunities is available to those seeking a mental health career. You may become a Psychiatrist, Psychologist, Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse, Substance Abuse Counselor, Social Worker or Crisis Intervention Specialist, among other professions. Your chosen career may require an associate's degree, bachelor's, master's, or a doctoral degree. Duties and requirements may vary by state. However, for licensing and/or clinical practice most states require a master's or doctoral degree.

Educational Paths for Two Well-Recognized Mental Health Careers

Two positions that require extensive courses of study are psychiatrist and psychologist. The following is a brief overview of their educational requirements:


Psychiatrists are physicians. As a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.), a psychiatrist is able to prescribe medication to mental health consumers as part of a treatment plan. If you are interested in becoming a psychiatrist, you may consider pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in biology or psychology at the undergraduate level. Next, you will need four years of medical school followed by four years of general psychiatry residency. A one-year post-residency fellowship is required for most specialties.


A psychologist's work often involves psychotherapy or counseling. Since psychologists cannot prescribe psychotropic medications, they may work as part of a team with psychiatrists or other health professionals who have prescriptive authority. If you would like to become a clinical psychologist, working with a particular group in a hospital setting, or a more generalized counseling psychologist, you will most likely need to pursue a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree. If you would prefer a career as a research psychologist, pursue a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree instead.

As stigma about mental illness decreases, you can expect growth in the mental health field.

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