Mental health careers can be roughly divided into five areas: counselor, psychiatrist, psychologist, psychiatric nurse, and social worker. Each career has a different method and period of training. One general qualification for working in the mental health field is the desire to help people and a strong resilience to stress, as these careers can be mentally trying on the professional. Another qualification is patience. Clients and patients do not always progress towards their goals or say things that the professional wants to hear. Professional helpers must sometimes celebrate the small goals their patients attain, so any therapy must always be individualized and contain a large dose of patience. Mental health professionals can work with individuals of all ages or they can specialize. They can also choose a certain practice area like nursing or career placement or choose a specific venue in which to work like managed care or private practice.
Counselors usually have a master's degree and work with other mental health professionals in treating a variety of mental conditions and disorders. They can be school counselors or career counselors and work with direct support staff, social, psychiatrists, or psychologists. In addition, many professional counselors operate private practices and provide substance abuse counseling. In some states, professional counselors are known by the title licensed professional counselor or licensed mental health counselor. States have different requirements as to educational and internship requirements. The American Counseling Association website lists addresses and websites by state from which to get more information.
Psychiatrists must have a bachelor's degree from a four-year accredited college and a medical degree. It is common for undergraduates in this field to acquire a pre-medical or science degree as admission to medical school usually requires a background in biology or chemistry. During medical school students participate in clinical rotations comprising of several medical specialties. Most psychiatrists complete a residency in psychiatry, which takes three to four years of clinical training. Psychiatrists are licensed as physicians with a specialty in psychiatry. They may apply for additional board certification in their specialty area. Only psychiatrists can dispense or prescribe medication. Psychiatrists provide psychotherapy and counseling services and are more likely to treat severe mental disorders.
Psychologists must have a bachelor's degree from a four-year accredited college and attend graduate school. Students can pursue a master's degree, but today a doctoral degree is the acceptable credential, a Ph.D., a Psy.D., or an Ed.D. Training covers all aspects of human behavior, causes of personality disorders, and may include diagnostic evaluation, psychological testing, and psychotherapy. Students usually include an internship at any number of locations such as hospitals, state institutions, substance abuse programs, or mental health centers. Some states require a licensing exam. Psychologists are specifically trained in the administration and interpretation of psychological tests. Neuropsychologists can do cognitive retraining with brain-injured clients.
Registered nurses acquire two to three years of schooling for the registered nursing credential. Psychiatric nurses go on to acquire a bachelor's degree. Advanced nursing can require a master's degree or doctoral degree in nursing. Registered nurses must have a basic knowledge of anatomy, chemistry, pharmacology, and biology, while psychiatric nurses must train in medical and psychological theories on mental health. The American Nurses Credentialing Center provides certification for psychiatric-mental health nurses. Registered nurses must at minimum take their state nursing board test to complete their education and practice. Nurses with advanced credentials and education can become psychotherapists, consultants, and college or university professors.
The entry level credential for social workers is a four-year degree from an accredited college or university. A master's degree is required for health, clinical, and school settings. Professorial, management or director positions require additional certification or licensing, which can vary by state. Social workers can also have private practices. Social workers counsel people with substance abuse problems, disabilities, and domestic abuse issues. They can work in school settings with issues like coordinating services for foster children, arrange adoptions, and work for child protective services. They can work in hospitals and arrange care for patients after discharge from hospitals and counsel those with serious illnesses or coordinate housing, transportation, and employment needs in a community setting. Social workers can give therapy, crisis intervention, and arrange for rehabilitation services. Social workers can become administrators, researchers, and policymakers, who develop community or regional programs for children, the homeless, and the underprivileged, for which they may write grants. Like other mental health professionals, social workers need to be emotionally stable and willing to help a wide variety of people.