Psycho-What? The Many Paths to Become a Mental Health Professional

The U.S. is welcoming back thousands of wartime veterans, national homelessness is arguably increasing, and mass shootings are becoming routine news. By no coincidence is the demand for mental health practitioners on the rise by more than 20%, or faster than average, over the next ten years. The stigma placed on mental health is gradually decreasing, making the mental health profession one with several opportunities.

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Want to be a clinical genius? Some professions include counselors, psychologists, and social workers. The paths to become a mental health professional are many, so let’s take some time to break down your options!

The Masters of Social Work

  • Graduate social work programs will oftentimes have different ‘tracks’ in which students can concentrate. Consider a track that will prepare you to pursue licensure in clinical social work. Social work programs will usually take 1-2 years to complete and will oftentimes include at least two semesters of field work experiences.

The Masters in Counseling

  • These programs typically award various degrees (i.e. M.A., M.S., M.Ed) with different terminology (i.e. mental health counseling, counselor education). Escape the potential confusion and focus on the most important distinction: accreditation. Programs will usually be accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). If a program is not CACREP accredited, it may not provide preparation for licensure, which is essential to becoming a professional counselor. Programs will usually take 2-3 years to complete and require a yearlong internship.

The Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy

  • In order to engage in Marriage and Family Therapy you do not need to be a licensed marriage and family therapist or complete a marriage and family therapy graduate program. However, a graduate degree in Marriage and Family Therapy provides the most efficient route towards licensure and practice as a marriage and family therapist. Marriage and Family Therapy programs will usually take 2-3 years to complete and include a yearlong internship.

The PhD.

  • PhDs come in two areas: Counseling Psychology and Clinical Psychology. Both programs are relatively similar: they both take about 5 years to complete, include a dissertation, and require a yearlong internship. Graduates with an interest in clinical work typically pursue licensure as a psychologist.

The Psy.D

  • The Psy.D, like the PhD., will require a pre-doctoral internship and prepare graduates for licensure as a psychologist, but will only take about 4 years to complete. The Psy.D may or may not require a dissertation, but will always place less focus on research and more focus on practice.

The M.D.

  • The M.D. prepares graduates to become psychiatrists. One of the greatest distinctions between the practice of Psychiatry and the aforementioned fields is that psychiatrists can prescribe medication. Psychiatrists are required to spend 4 years to obtain a medical degree and an additional four years of residency training in psychiatry.

Deciding which path fits you and preparing yourself is the greatest challenge. Feel free to visit Career and Leadership Development to work with a career counselor and explore the path and preparation that best fits you!

Photo by Joe Houghton.