Mental Health Therapist Jobs & Career Guide

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Mental Health Therapist CareersWhat is a Mental Health Therapist?

A mental health therapist is a trained professional who works with individuals, couples, families, and groups to address mental health issues and improve overall psychological well-being. Mental health therapists are also often referred to as mental health counselors, psychotherapists, or mental health clinicians.

The role of a mental health therapist is to provide a safe and supportive space for their clients to explore and process their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. They work collaboratively with their clients to develop strategies for managing mental health symptoms, building resilience, and achieving personal growth.

Mental health therapists may use a range of evidence-based therapies and techniques, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and mindfulness-based interventions. They may specialize in particular areas, such as substance abuse, trauma, or eating disorders.

What is a Mental Health Therapist Responsible for?

Mental Health Therapists are responsible for assisting clients in understanding their illness and providing guidance to help them manage the challenges they face. A Mental Health Therapist spends a great deal of time in discussion with the client, helping them to talk through and manage their emotions and understand how their illness affects their decisions and general well-being. The therapist also spends time meeting with other health-care professionals and arranging access to community resources and programs that may help the client.

Mental Health Therapists should expect to work at any or all the following tasks:

  • Identifying individuals and groups who need help
  • Encouraging discussion of emotions and experiences
  • Assessing the individual’s situation and review their needs, strengths, and support systems
  • Offering encouragement and advice on how to achieve goals
  • Teaching relaxation techniques to help clients deal with stressful circumstances  
  • Examining issues affecting strong mental health, including bullying, anger management, aging issues, substance abuse, and relationships
  • Creating plans to improve situations for their clients
  • Researching community resources to determine those available and helpful to their clients
  • Working with families and friends to gain an understanding of their clients’ social network
  • Helping their clients define goals and strategies to achieve them
  • Applying a holistic mind and body approach to their clients’ mental-health care
  • Conducting interviews and follow-ups with clients to ensure the plan for improvement is effective
  • Maintaining accurate reports and records

“Being a mental health therapist is a fulfilling and rewarding profession. It requires a deep level of empathy, compassion, and a willingness to be present with people during some of the most difficult moments of their lives. It can be challenging, as you work to support people through their struggles and provide them with the tools they need to improve their mental health. But it’s also incredibly meaningful, as you witness the growth and progress that your clients make over time. If you’re interested in making a positive impact on people’s lives and helping them to overcome mental health challenges, a career as a mental health therapist may be a great fit for you.”

Dr. Ryan Hooper, Director of Clinical Services at Michigan State University Counseling Services

Here is what a typical day might look like for a mental health therapist working in a substance abuse treatment facility:

  1. Reviewing client files: begin the day by reviewing client files to refresh your memory on each client’s history, progress, and treatment plan.
  2. Conducting individual therapy sessions: The therapist may then spend several hours conducting individual therapy sessions with clients who are struggling with substance abuse and related mental health issues.
  3. Conducting group therapy sessions: In addition to individual sessions, the mental health therapist may also lead group therapy sessions for clients who are struggling with substance abuse.
  4. Collaborating with other staff members: Mental health therapists working in substance abuse facilities often work as part of a team that includes medical staff, case managers, and support staff. The therapist may collaborate with these colleagues to ensure that clients receive coordinated and comprehensive care.
  5. Documenting client progress: After each session, the mental health therapist will document the client’s progress, noting any changes in their mental health or substance use, and making adjustments to their treatment plan as needed.
  6. Attending staff meetings: Mental health therapists may attend staff meetings to discuss client progress, address any issues that arise, and coordinate care with other team members.
  7. Administration and paperwork: Writing up session nows and updating patient files.
  8. Continuing education: ongoing professional development to stay up to date on the latest research and best practices in the field of addiction treatment.

Where Does a Mental Health Therapist Work?

Mental health therapists work in a variety of settings, depending on their area of specialization; private practice, hospitals and medical centers, community mental health centers, schools, substance abuse treatment centers, correctional facilities and online therapy platforms.

How to Become a Mental Health Therapist

Education Requirements

Mental health therapists must have at least a master’s degree, with most having a doctorate in counseling psychology, social work, marriage and family therapy, or another related field. 

This journey begins with obtaining your Bachelor’s degree. You’ll need to major in a field such as psychology, social work, or counseling. 

A psychology degree will focus on the science of behavior and how to apply it to understanding mental health and take courses like developmental psychology and abnormal psychology. A social work major will focus on how to provide therapeutic support to individuals in need and take classes like human behavior, social policy, and counseling. 

It is also wise to pursue research or internship positions as an undergraduate. These will allow you to gain experience in the field while gaining valuable contacts and references.

After you have finished your undergraduate degree, you will need to complete a master’s degree in counseling psychology, counseling or mental health therapy. When applying to Master’s degree programs will need to take the GRE General Test and may need to complete an application essay.

Depending on your chosen program, this could take anywhere from two to four years. During your graduate studies, you will learn how to assess and treat mental health issues, support individuals and families in need, work with cultural diversity and sensitivity, and abide by the profession’s ethical standards. You will also learn how to diagnose and treat mental health issues. 

Find Master’s Programs

Supervised Clinical Experience

After earning your degree, mental health therapists typically need to complete a certain number of hours of supervised clinical experience, which is usually around 2,000-3,000 hours.

Certification and Licensing

Mental health therapists must be licensed, which includes passing a required examination, such as the National Clinical Mental Health Counselors Examination (NCMHCE), and completing any state-required continuing education.

Additionally, many therapists choose to become certified by professional organizations such as the American Counseling Association, the National Board for Certified Counselors, and the American Psychological Association.

These tests are incredibly rigorous, and many mental health therapists spend much time studying for them. The required certification and licensing may also change depending on the state where you practice.

Continuing Education Requirements

Once you have your license and certification, staying abreast of any changes in the mental health therapy field is essential. Mental health therapists must earn continuing education credits every year or two to remain licensed and certified.

You can earn these credits by attending conferences, completing online courses, or reading relevant journals and books. Many organizations, such as the American Counseling Association, have online communities and websites that provide updated information about continuing education requirements.

Mental health therapists must also stay up-to-date on ethical and legal practices. It is essential to stay current with the most current practices because this allows mental health therapists to give their patients the best advice and care.

How Much Money Does a Mental Health Therapist Earn?

Mental Health Therapists earn an average of $78,000 per year. The annual salary varies greatly by location, degree, and position. Substance abuse and crisis intervention counselors often earn less than the average annual salary.

See our mental health therapist salary guide for more detailed insights.

What Other Career Options Are Available to a Mental Health Therapist?

See also; Jobs you can do with a Master’s degree in psychology

Mental Health Therapists help clients with a variety of social and lifestyle issues. The key function of a Mental Health Therapist is to be attentive to patient’s and guide them to develop an adaptive plan for coping with their problems. Compassion and dedication are the leading traits in this career choice. There are many positions across an array of industries for those interested in becoming a Mental Health Therapist.

A few career options available to those interested in this field include:

Federal and State Agencies – Mental Health Therapists assist many government agencies by providing timely and critical mental-health support. Patients who require highly specialized support are found at such places as the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Children and Family Services, the Office of Disability Affairs, and the Office of Elderly Affairs. Clients in these programs often suffer from mental-health issues that directly relate to their social or economic class. The Mental Health Therapist works with clients and other agencies to identify available resources and help ensure the needs of the clients are addressed.  

Substance Abuse Centers – Mental Health Therapists who specialize in substance abuse and addiction illness are in high demand. Chronic abuse of tobacco, alcohol, prescription, and illegal drugs can cause psychological and behavioral problems, and even death. Although serious enough on their own, these addictions and abuses often stem from bigger problems. The therapist works with their patients to uncover the reasons for the abuse. Mental Health Therapists who specialize in substance abuse work in many environments, including mental health and community centers, private practice, and hospitals.

Marriage and Family Therapist – Group dynamics in marriage and family often trigger problems for individuals, making it difficult for them to address and overcome issues. Mental Health Therapists provide an objective voice in helping couples and families understand the underlying issues that make up the root cause of their conflict. Therapists who specialize in family counseling can be found in private practice as well as community centers and health-care settings. Learn more about becoming a licensed marriage and family therapist.

Crisis Intervention – Crisis intervention settings are highly challenging and very rewarding. This specialty requires a therapist who works well in stressful situations. The Mental Health Therapist often travels to a location on an emergency basis to offer evaluation, critical diagnostic assessment, and assessments of lethality or suicidal intention. Crisis intervention Therapists also work in hospital emergency departments, police departments, and disaster relief centers. They respond to emergency situations, offering counseling, diagnosis, referrals, and treatment plans to victims and survivors.

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