A Career in Behavioral and Mental Health: A Look at Three Popular Fields

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mental healthPeople’s mental health is highly important. It’s what helps them live a good life. If you feel you would like to help people improve their mental state, the following are some of the best careers in behavioral health.

#1: Psychiatrist

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in mental health. This person will perform assessments on patients, diagnose them with a mental disorder, and then prescribe psychotropic medication. A psychiatrist can have his own private practice, or work in hospitals and behavioral health facilities.

Is Psychiatry Right for You?

Psychiatrists are highly intelligent concerning mental health disorders. They have excellent analytical skills and can discern reality from hallucinations. They also have research abilities and writing skills to be able to report on studies performed on various mental disorders.


A psychiatrist has an average salary of $186,000. The amount a psychiatrist earns depends on where he/she works. Psychiatrists with a private practice can sometimes earn more if they have good marketing skills. Those working in managed care often earn less because of the caps insurance companies place on care.

Education and Training Needs

To become a psychiatrist, it’s important to major in psychology and minor in in a science such as biology, chemistry, math or physics. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree, prospective psychiatrists will go on to medical school on a psychiatry track. Just like medical doctors, they will need to complete a residency program, which means working a medical facility in its psych department. Upon completion of residency, they will seek board certifications from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.

#2: Psychologist

A psychologist is someone who uses talk therapy to treat mental illness. They perform assessments, create a treatment plan and implement that plan through sessions with the client. Psychologists are a lot like psychiatrists except they do not prescribe medication and focus more on the emotional and mental process of the psyche. Psychologists can also have a private practice, work in hospitals and behavioral health facilities.

Is Being a Psychologist Right for You?

If you like to help people with their problems by talking with them, you may be best suited as a psychologist. Excellent analytical skills and reasoning abilities are needed to help people who are suffering from the severe symptoms of mental illness. It’s also important to have a high patience level and compassion for those who may not see reality the same as others.


The average salary for psychologists is $88,557. Some psychologists can make as much as $111,673, but they often work for behavioral health facilities and run their own private practice. Just like psychiatrists, marketing skills are needed to make a good living being a private psychologist.

Education and Training for Becoming a Psychologist

Aspiring psychologists need to complete an undergraduate degree in psychology. A minor in sociology or related field can be helpful for future work in the industry. Graduate school is the next step to achieve a Ph.D. in psychology. Once the graduate degree is achieved, psychologists must complete the requirements set forth by the state board of psychology in which they want to work. This will result in a licensure giving them the permission to be a psychologist in that state.

#3: Therapist

A therapist is much like a psychologist, but does not usually help people with severe mental illness. Therapists help people with life’s problems that are hard to cope with and overcome. They can help people through death of a loved one, divorce, infertility or any other common problems.

Is Being a Therapist Right for You?

Therapists are supportive, compassionate and patient with others. They have excellent communication and analytical skills. They are also able to reason well and inspire people to improve their lives.


Therapists earned a median salary of $48,160 in 2013. The top paying areas in the United States are:

  1. Raleigh
  2. North Carolina
  3. California
  4. Nevada

Therapists with a private practice often earn more because they are able to take on more clients and charge more for sessions.

Education and Training Needed for Therapists

To become a therapist, an undergraduate degree in psychology or related discipline is needed. Upon completion, a master’s degree is required, usually in counseling. Therapists must be licensed by the state they want to practice in, and the requirements for each state differ. The requirements often consist of a certain number or supervised hours (between 2,000 and 4,000 hours) and then passing the state exam. Continuing education is often required to maintain licensure. Some therapists are certified by the Board of Certified Counselors to enhance their reputation.

Helping people with the mental health is possible if you’re a psychiatrist, psychologist or therapist. Choose a career that fits what you find to be the most interesting to you. If you believe the medical side of psychology is for you, become a psychiatrist. If you want to help people suffering from severe mental illness, but don’t want to treat the medical side of it, become a psychologist. If you want to help people who are healthy mentally, but need help coping with life’s challenges, becoming a therapist may be best for you. Take your time, choose wisely and move forward into a career that will be rewarding and fun.

About the Author

Sarah Landrum

Sarah Landrum is a freelance writer, blogger, and aspiring world traveler. Sarah is also the founder of Punched Clocks, a site on which she shares advice for young professionals on navigating the work world, and finding happiness and success at work. For more on all things career follow her @SarahLandrum

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