How to work in mental health industry?
September 4, 2013 9:25 AM   Subscribe

I'm interested in working in the mental health industry. How can I start dipping my toe in the water?

I'm still very much in the "maybe I'd like to..." phase, so I apologize if this is a vague request. I'm mostly interested in possibly working as a therapist or counselor, but I don't quite understand the distinctions between different types of therapists/counselors/psychologists and what their various qualifications are. I'm aware of PsyD and PhD, but these are more academic disciplines, right? What sort of training/background/education would a person have who, say, works with CBT or conflict resolution? I'm more interested in the behavioral/cognitive approaches rather than drug therapy.

Is it possible to get an internship and/or shadow a therapist? That would seem to violate patient confidentiality; is there some other way of getting some exposure or experience in the field without committing to a masters program?

FWIW, my current background is in an unrelated industry. My academic background is in math/sciences and I work in software. I'm not sure if that makes a difference, but there you have it.
posted by deathpanels to Work & Money (3 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You can contact your state administrator of the various licenses to get requirements for things like Licensed Professional Therapist or Licensed Social Worker.

You can get involved with a volunteer organization that provides advice/counseling. I was a rape crisis counselor in college, with an organization that was also affiliated with a residential women's shelter. Sometimes there are licensed professionals providing guidance and training for the volunteers, so that would give you an opportunity to form a relationship with someone in the industry.

You might be able to arrange an informational interview with a licensed professional in the area.

You could work as a psych tech in a hospital, nursing home, or treatment facility. Be warned: doing so will probably guarantee you never want to work in the industry again, unless you are very lucky, very dedicated, or naturally incredibly thick-skinned.

You could also go into therapy yourself. I don't know if all states require it, but at least some do, and as far as I know all academic programs do. It ought to be mandatory if it isn't already. And then you'd have someone to discuss it with who's probably familiar with the ins and outs in your state/county/city.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:58 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

You can get involved with a volunteer organization that provides advice/counseling.

I trained as a suicide hotline volunteer and a lot of my fellow volunteers were working on transitioning into the mental health counseling field. No it's not the same but you do get very valuable training. I also learned a lot about detachment from other people's problems (in order to actually help them) that stays with me to this day.
posted by sweetkid at 11:55 AM on September 4, 2013

Hi! As you suggested, there are a ton of different degrees/routes you can take within this field.

PsyD is generally a little more therapy/practice oriented than PhD, which is heavily based in research and academia. The only caveat is that PsyD programs are generally very expensive, whereas many PhD programs have research funding-- i.e., you receive a small stipend in exchange for doing your PhD/contributing research to that school.

In your case, I would look into becoming a master's-level clinician. You could do a Master of Social Work, Mental Health Counseling, Marriage and Family Therapy, etc. Most people I know go for the MSW because it offers the most flexibility. The professions do have a lot of overlap. For example, a job may accept someone with either a master's degree or a doctorate. These programs are usually 2 years including an internship in the field. When you graduate there are steps to getting licensed which are unique to each state. In grad school you will learn about the various types of therapy, and you could definitely gear your own therapy methods towards CBT.

As for experience (which is usually a prerequisite for getting into grad school)-- you could volunteer at a crisis center/crisis hotline. There are also many outpatient programs where several therapy and recreational groups are held. I volunteered at one such place and learned a LOT. I was eventually even allowed to run some of the groups (computers, stress management, etc.) The experience showed me that I didn't want to become a therapist, but it was an amazing experience nonetheless.

To find out about a program like that one, you could call a local hospital, soup kitchen, or public housing facility. They usually have a good idea of the mental health resources available within the community. Good luck!
posted by DayTripper at 2:39 PM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

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