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.

Pieta House Press Pack - Joan Freeman, CEO Pieta House - Pieta House (12 of 28)

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.

Alternatives to Your Dream Job


Congratulations UW-Whitewater spring graduates! As you celebrate your achievements during various events, you are probably hearing several age-old quotes and clichés.

Graduation is a big thing, but you still may get doubts that the “the tassel is worth the hassle.” You earned a degree, but you may not be excited about your new employment or may have no job at all. Graduation can be sobering when you do not receive the outcome you expected four years ago.

Do not fear. Now is a good time to replace your worries with planning and preparation. Here are three roadblocks and four alternative career considerations as you pursue your ideal career.

Three Roadblocks After Graduation

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

  1. Graduate School: It is amazing when someone pursues a graduate program in which they are passionate, committed, and prepared. The dangers of graduate school arise when one pursues graduate school just to avoid the workforce. Do your research before attending graduate school.
  2. The Couch: In 2011, the New York Post reported that up to 85% of graduates were moving back home. Disclaimer: Living at home does not mean a free-for-all on The View and Nintendo Wii. Continue to improve and develop skills through some combination of volunteering, internships, or other form of employment.
  3. Job Search Breaks: Continue your normal job search and set-up e-mail notifications for job openings. In addition, maintain your relationship with networking contacts and find ways to meet new contacts through various means (friends, family, professional associations, LinkedIn). Even if you have a job, stay up-to-date on position openings in your field.

Four Alternative Career Considerations

“Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.” – Malcolm X

  1. Duties of Interest: You may not immediately become a copy editor for HarperCollins or perform marketing for Google. For now, try to utilize the skills you love even if you are not working with the product, employer, or environment you love.
  2. Environment of Interest: Are you interested in working for the federal government? Get a job, any job, and use it to build networks and knowledge to help you move closer to your dream job with your employer.
  3. Service Programs: You may desire to build more experience or are still trying to discover fields in which you are interested. Try a service program to build experience and earn a few benefits along the way. City Year, AmeriCorps, and Milwaukee Teaching Fellows are just a few such programs.
  4. Temporary Work: If you are in the position to be flexible, staffing agencies can be a great way to build various skills. The key is to be  strategic about the types of positions you are willing to work.

Career services is here to help you develop and evaluate your job search strategies. Make an appointment at some point during the summer and we can assist you in your pursuit of your ideal career.

 “…if one advances confidently in the direction of his dream, and endeavors to live the life which he had imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
– Henry David Thoreau

Photo by Sean MacEntee.

Graduate School: Prepare & Apply

The idea of attending graduate school always intrigued me during my years as an undergrad. With a desire to become a counselor I knew it was inevitable, but I didn’t know much about the process. Here are some of my tips for preparing and applying to graduate school programs.


Research the University, the Graduate School, the Department, the Program and the City/Area in which the school is located. You’d think that this would be common sense, but from experience, I can tell you it’s not. Each of these levels can have a dramatic effect on your choice to attend or even apply to a specific program. For example, if the program is located in a city or state that you are unwilling or unable to move to, it doesn’t matter how strong of a program it is, it won’t be satisfying for you. Same thing goes with the department. If you are looking for a graduate program with a large full-time staff, a program that relies on adjunct faculty may not be your best bet.


If at all possible, once you have done your research, go on a campus visit. You can learn a great deal about a campus and a program by looking at the space you’ll be in as a graduate student. Listen to your gut if it does or doesn’t feel right.

Informational Interview

Consider setting up interviews with faculty members to learn more about their research or areas of expertise. Ask questions that you couldn’t find the answers to online or in print resources.

Contact current graduate students! Often time departments are more than willing to have prospective students meet with current students. Find out from students what the pros and cons are of the program and what suggestions they would have for you about how to navigate the grad school life.


If you like what you see and hear, apply! Remember that graduate school applications can be somewhat complex and generally require all or some of the following components:

  1. Application form (electronic or paper)
    1. For the Graduate School
    2. For the program
  2. Resume
  3. Cover Letter
  4. Personal Statement
  5. Autobiography Statement
  6. Letter of intent

For assistance with any of these documents, you can set up an appointment with any of the Career staff at Career & Leadership Development by calling 262-472-1471.

With your application, pay special attention to deadlines, specifics on where and how to submit your completed application or necessary admissions tests like the GRE or GMAT.

Overall when you’re thinking graduate school, start early and weigh your options. No two programs are the same and there is a “right one” out there for you!

Photo by: Collin College