What Career in Behavioral Healthcare is Right for Me?

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Exploring careers in behavioral healthcare

Today, there’s a major upward trend in people seeking out mental health services. The pandemic, as well as increasing social acceptance around mental illness, has made therapy and other behavioral health services more appealing. With this increase in individuals pursuing mental health treatment, it may have crossed your mind that being a mental health professional is a truly fulfilling and meaningful career.

What is behavioral healthcare?

Behavioral healthcare is a branch of healthcare specifically focused on social, emotional and behavioral well-being. Often, this field includes working with individuals who struggle with mental illness, behavioral problems or unhealthy lifestyle habits. Behavioral healthcare includes mental health and encompasses many areas of need. Here are some areas that are included under the umbrella of behavioral healthcare:

  • Therapy
  • Counseling
  • Substance abuse
  • Eating disorders
  • Gambling addiction
  • Sex addiction
  • Family counseling
  • Couples counseling

There are so many reasons to look into a career in the mental health field. It’s a stable career option that is growing as awareness and demand for mental health services increases. Many careers in behavioral health offer more flexibility than other fields and the rewards of helping people achieve fulfilling lives is a major draw. There are countless specialties and ways to serve in clinical settings. If you’re considering a career in behavioral health, here are the most common avenues to specific occupations. Keep in mind that for most careers in behavioral healthcare, the requirements differ by state and by employer.

Social work

Social workers tend to focus on resources and support rather than diagnosing mental health disorders. Although some social workers include treatment of mental illness in the scope of their practice, social work typically maintains an emphasis on mitigating environmental factors and adapting behavioral manifestations so individuals can live a more functional lifestyle. 

Perhaps the broadest range of career options within behavioral healthcare belongs to social workers. Social work is divided into micro-social work and macro-social work. Micro focuses on working with individuals (working in schools, hospitals, correctional facilities, child protective services, hospice, etc.) and macro focuses on changing systems (work in advocacy, policy analysis, community organizing, research and the like).

In order to be considered a clinical social worker, a Master’s Degree in Social Work is required. Additionally, social workers are licensed professionals, receiving full licensure after an exam, a period of supervised work and application to the Association of Social Work Boards.

Time in school: 5 to 6 years. Many schools offer an accelerated Master’s program if you obtain an undergraduate degree in social work, hence the 5-year path. It will take 6 years to obtain a Master’s degree if you currently hold an undergraduate degree in an unrelated field.

Counseling

Counseling is a branch of behavioral healthcare that focuses primarily on psychological health, rather than physical health. Counselors often work with mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, grief, self-esteem, substance abuse, anger management, stress, relationship issues and so on. Like social workers, counselors work in a variety of fields, such as inpatient and outpatient therapy, substance abuse recovery, in government or in private practice. Most counseling positions require a Master’s Degree to practice. The National Board for Certified Counselors is where you’d look to get certified in counseling and a license can be obtained after taking one or both of two national exams.

Many people automatically think of school counselors when they think of the profession of counseling. School counseling is a distinct branch of counseling that differs from the rest of counseling in many ways. School counselors, though they often help with emotional and social issues, typically are employed by the school to encourage and assist with college attendance and applications, career readiness and scheduling classes. This requires a specialized Master’s Degree in School Counseling.

Time in school: 5 to 6 years. Like social work, accelerated programs exist for those who have received an undergraduate degree in the same field. Like most other clinical professions, counseling requires some field experience before graduating.

Psychology

Most often, the term “therapist” refers to a psychologist, or someone who has a degree in psychology. Psychologists typically use talk therapy to provide treatment to their clients. Often, a therapist will have a specialty area of practice, such as working with children or working with victims of trauma. Moreover, many therapists will have several areas of expertise and acquire more endorsements over time. Psychologists focus primarily on treatment rather than environmental factors. Psychologists typically work in private practice, hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, nursing homes, university medical centers and rehab programs. 

In order to practice, a person will have to complete an advanced degree and obtain licensure after a certain number of clinical hours in the field. Most psychologists have PhDs. Before licensure, applicants take an exam called the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology.

Time in school: Roughly 8 to 10 years. First a bachelor’s Degree, then a doctoral Degree, then some time in supervised training and practice makes for about a decade of study and preparation to practice psychology.

Psychiatry

Psychiatrists lean towards the medical side of the spectrum of mental health workers, as they can prescribe drugs for treatment whereas social workers, counselors and psychologists cannot. Psychiatrists are doctors who specialize in diagnosing and treating psychiatric disorders by combining therapeutic techniques and medication. In order to be licensed and certified, a person must first complete four years of medical school and a four year residency before he or she can officially be called a psychiatrist. The American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and The American Osteopathic Board of Neurology and Psychiatry are the two recognized boards that offer certification. Psychiatrists typically work in hospitals and private practices.

Time in school: 8 years, plus 4 years in residency. Factor in a bachelor’s degree, a doctorate degree (either a doctor of medicine, MD, or a doctor of osteopathic medicine, OD), and a residency program and you’re looking at about 12 years before being able to practice independently. However, after 8 years of school a psychiatrist can obtain a license and is working in the field during the residency.

Pyramid Online Counseling employs licensed and certified clinicians in several capacities. We are always looking to hire competent and compassionate team members who want to help individuals master mental health struggles and live a life they can be proud of. If you’re interested in learning more, check out our careers page and apply online.