Degrees for Mental Healthand Addiction Professionals

Mental health and substance abuse careers require a variety of educational degrees and skills. The job market is booming, and most of the careers in behavioral health care have an earning potential higher than the national average salary.

How to Begin a Career in Behavioral Health Care

The job market for careers in mental health and addiction medicine is growing because of an increased demand for substance abuse treatment. Most jobs in the behavioral health care field require some type of higher education, and higher-level jobs often require experience in the field.

Time spent in school could range from four to eight years, and the amount of money invested in education could range from $15,000 to $100,000. The good news is a graduate with a degree in a behavioral health care field shouldn’t have any trouble finding a job as a therapist or counselor.

 

Occupational Outlook

The number of mental health counselors will grow by 19 percent from 2014 to 2024, a rate much faster than the national average of 7 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Demand for counselors specializing in behavioral health disorders or substance abuse issues is increasing, too. The number of jobs is expected to grow by 22 percent from 2014 to 2024. The job outlook for social workers is expected to grow by 12 percent during the same time frame.

“‘The Occupational Outlook’ Handbook has a very good outlook for the need for mental health counselors.” said Dr. Rhonda Norman, assistant professor in the Department of Counseling at Xavier University.

Time spent in school could range from four to eight years, and the amount of money invested in education could range from $15,000 to $100,000.

Increased Demand

To keep up with the demand, colleges and universities have been forced to expand their psychology and counseling programs.

“In Xavier’s Counseling Department, we have seen our clinical mental health counseling program grow significantly in the past five years,” Norman told DrugRehab.com.

In recent years, the number of people with a background in addiction medicine hasn’t kept up with the demand. That’s forced employers to hire job seekers with other backgrounds or experience.

“I wish I could say that the entry-level positions were filled with psychology or social work majors, but that may be what they are looking for but not always possible to hire,” Norman said. “Some of the entry-level positions may be filled with varying degrees, although the preference would be to have a behavioral science background.”

Possessing a background in psychology, social work or medicine can put job seekers ahead of the competition in a field looking to hire new professionals.

Careers in Mental Health and Addiction

Before you choose a school or degree path, you should narrow down the type of career you hope to pursue. There are numerous careers in the mental health and drug rehab industries. Some career paths require higher educational requirements than others.

Behavioral Health Technician

Behavioral health technicians help counselors or staff members deliver clinical support to patients. They often work in hospitals, residential facilities, outpatient centers and private doctor’s offices. Employers usually hire behavioral health technicians who have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

In May of 2015, the typical salaries of behavioral health technicians and aides were:

$20,780
Lowest 10%
$31,140
Median
$60,690
Highest 10%

MENTAL HEALTH COUNSELOR

Mental health counselors assess, diagnose and treat mental health conditions. They must obtain a master’s degree and state license, which usually requires at least two years of field experience. They often work in hospitals, detox centers, inpatient and outpatient facilities, sober living environments, correctional facilities or the educational system.

In May of 2015, the typical salaries of mental health counselors were:

$26,300
Lowest 10%
$41,880
Median
$68,790
Highest 10%

Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors

Also referred to as addiction counselors, substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors treat those with substance use disorders, process addictions, and eating disorders. They work with clients in individual and group settings, and some specialize in interventions. Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors typically hold bachelor’s degrees, but requirements vary according to state. Those in private practice must be licensed.

In May of 2015, the typical salaries for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors were:

$25,860
Lowest 10%
$39,980
Median
$63,030
Highest 10%

Social Worker

Social workers assist clients or patients affected by mental health problems or other issues. They assess needs, identify support systems, provide referrals and respond to crises. Social workers often specialize in helping specific populations such as the elderly, children or people with co-occurring disorders. Employers hire social workers with bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degrees.

In May of 2015, the typical salaries for social workers were:

$28,530
Lowest 10%
$45,900
Median
$76,820
Highest 10%

Psychiatric Nurse

Specialized nurses who have been trained to work with patients diagnosed with mental health problems are called psychiatric nurses. They help physicians with assessments, patient management and treatment. They often work in mental health hospitals, inpatient facilities and community-based mental health programs. Psychiatric nurses usually have bachelor’s or master’s degrees.

In May of 2015, the typical salaries for psychiatric nurses were:

$46,360
Lowest 10%
$67,490
Median
$101,630
Highest 10%

PSYCHOLOGIST

Psychologists are doctors of philosophy who are trained to diagnose and treat mental health conditions. After receiving a state license, they provide psychotherapeutic treatment such as cognitive behavioral therapy and talk therapy.

In May of 2015, the typical salaries for psychologists were:

$41,110
Lowest 10%
$72,580
Median
$118,310
Highest 10%

Psychiatrists

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who are in charge of diagnosing and treating mental health disorders, such as substance use disorders, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. They focus on managing mental health issues with medicine and behavioral interventions.

In May of 2015, the typical salaries for psychiatrists were:

$59,430
Lowest 10%
$187,200
Median
$187,200
Highest 10%


Note: $187,200 is the highest salary that the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics categorizes when comparing percentiles. The mean annual wage for psychiatrists in 2015 was $193,680.

There are a variety of other mental health careers such as interventionists, case managers, vocational counselors, recovery coaches and administrative support specialists. These professionals often possess degrees in psychology or human health, but these are not always required.

mental health care degrees

Types of Mental Health Degrees

The type of degree and amount of schooling required to become an addiction professional depends on the type of career you’re pursuing. The specific educational requirements vary by state and employer.

“In the state of Ohio, to become a licensed counselor, you will need a master’s degree from a Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Program accredited counseling program,” Norman said. “Marriage and family therapists also need a master’s degree to obtain licensure.

“To obtain a license in psychology, you will need a doctorate in psychology, and you can get licensed as a social worker with a bachelor’s degree in the state of Ohio.”

If you’re striving to become an admissions specialist or entry-level nursing assistant, you may need only two years of education and an associate’s degree. If your goal is to become a clinical or medical director, you’ll need a master’s degree or doctorate and between six and eight years of education.

Associate’s Degrees

Very few mental health jobs require only an associate’s degree, but you can become a strong candidate for an entry-level job that has minimal educational requirements by getting a relevant associate’s degree.

Relevant associate’s degrees include:

  • Health science
  • Mental health counseling
  • Nursing

Associate’s degrees may help you gain access to an internship while you work toward a more advanced degree, and they’ll prepare you for coursework required for bachelor’s degrees.

Bachelor’s Degrees

With a bachelor’s degree in a mental health field, you may be able to become a behavioral health technician, mental health counselor or social worker, depending on the requirements of your state’s licensing board.

Many bachelor’s degrees require the completion of an internship, practicum or field hours. Relevant bachelor’s degrees include:

  • Sociology
  • Psychology
  • Nursing
  • Counseling

You’ll have to complete a bachelor’s degree to become eligible for most graduate programs, and most universities require students seeking a graduate degree to have an educational background in a related field.

Norman said most students who enter graduate-level programs at Xavier have a background in behavioral science, but there are some exceptions.

Master’s Degrees

The majority of high-level careers in behavioral health care and addiction medicine require graduate-level degrees. Graduate degrees often require students to complete internship or residency programs, and some licenses require field work directly related to the profession.

“For a master’s degree in counseling, in addition to the course work, you will have to complete a minimum of 600 hours of clinical internship practice at an approved site,” Norman said. “If you are interested in the addictions license, your site needs to provide practice hours treating addictions as well.”

Relevant master’s degrees include:

  • Counseling
  • Education
  • Health science
  • Medicine
  • Medical science
  • Psychology
  • Public health
  • Social work

Appropriate disciplines are typically determined by the specific occupation.

Doctoral Degrees

Some doctoral programs accept applicants with bachelor’s degrees and take four to six years to complete. Other programs accept only applicants with master’s degrees and take two to four years to complete.

“For the doctorate in counseling, there is an additional internship requirement depending on your area of specialization,” Norman said. “It could vary from clinical practice, administrative/leadership, research, teaching or consulting. Again, this is a minimum of 600 hours.”

Relevant doctoral degrees include:

  • Behavioral health
  • Counseling
  • Education
  • Medicine
  • Nursing
  • Psychology
  • Public health
  • Social work

Depending on the area of practice, job seekers may have to receive a number of certifications, licenses or accreditations after completing school.

TOP COLLEGES WITH MENTAL HEALTH COUNSELING DEGREE PROGRAMS

List of colleges and their acceptance rates.

* Rank according to StartClass, which grades colleges and universities on academic excellence, admission selectivity, career readiness, financial affordability and expert opinion.

What You’ll Learn in School

A college education should prepare you to meet the demands of an entry-level job in your field. It should also lay the foundation for pursuing higher-level careers or advanced academic goals.

Graduate coursework builds on that foundational knowledge. The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs sets standards for graduate-level counseling programs. Counseling programs accredited by CACREP include programs focusing on addiction and clinical mental health as well as marriage, couple and family counseling.

Undergraduate coursework in psychology introduces students to the science of human behavior, including how the brain functions, how humans process information and how the brain develops. Students learn about psychological disorders, their causes, symptoms and treatment approaches.

A college education should prepare you to meet the demands of an entry-level job in your field. It should also lay the foundation for pursuing higher-level careers or advanced academic goals.

Standardized Programming

At Xavier, the graduate school curriculum is closely aligned with CACREP’s standards for accreditation, Norman said.

“Students do have the option of choosing several electives as they begin to focus in on an area of specialization,” Norman said. “But mostly the program prepares students to have a general clinical mental health practice.”

According to CACREP’s standards, a specialization in addiction counseling teaches students about risk factors for addiction, the interaction between substances use disorders and co-occurring mental health conditions and the importance of support systems in recovery. Students learn to perform assessments and diagnostic interviews. They practice intervention techniques and various therapeutic approaches, and students learn about legal and ethical considerations.

Beginning work toward a career in mental health and addiction is an exciting challenge. It requires a lot of work and investment up front, but students with behavioral science degrees have a growing job market to choose from and the potential to earn high wages.

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