Until very recently, mental health was dismissed as being secondary to physical health, with help being difficult to access and, in the case of electro-convulsive therapy and lobotomies, often invasive and traumatic. People suffering from mental health conditions were stigmatized as being “crazy,” as were the doctors and nurses caring for them, who were often also labeled as sadistic.
Fortunately, times are changing and society is slowly becoming more understanding and empathetic towards mental health conditions—though there is arguably still some way to go to smash the stigma surrounding mental health. Those working in the mental health field are now recognized with respect as providing care in often demanding circumstances to help improve the quality of life for patients suffering from mental health conditions.
If you would like to begin a career in this demanding yet fulfilling medical field, here are three jobs you can do in the mental health sector, and the training that is required.
Psychiatric nurses have been the victims of negative stereotypes in the past, perhaps due to fictional depictions such as the fearsome Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. However, the reality is that most psychiatric nurses are incredibly caring and compassionate, and make a positive difference to the lives of their patients.
As a psychiatric nurse, you will work in a facility specializing in a range of psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, and psychosis. In addition to administering and monitoring treatment, you will be involved in developing personalized nursing plans for each patient, designed to help patients carry out self-care activities and regain their coping strategies. You will also have to respond to the specific challenges presented in each psychiatric condition, and be involved in crisis intervention and counseling.
In order to become a psychiatric nurse, you must first be a registered nurse (RN). This is preferably done through a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree, as an undergraduate degree will enable you to progress to a Master’s degree specializing in psychiatric care. There are several programs available to get you started on your career journey, all of which can fit around your life and goals.
For example, accelerated nursing programs online will enable you to complete your Bachelor of Science in Nursing in a shorter time frame than a traditional campus-based college degree. You will then need to complete a Master of Science in Nursing Degree, specializing in either adult or child and adolescent psychiatric nursing. Through this, you will learn specific skills such as training in psychological therapies, administering psychiatric medication, and dealing with challenging behavior.
Working as a psychiatric nurse requires a mix of strength and compassion, and though it can be challenging and stressful and times, it can also be rewarding as you help patients to regain their independence and confidence in themselves.
Mental health counselor
Life can undeniably have its difficulties, and most people would benefit from some form of counseling at least once in their lives, whether that is marriage guidance, addiction counseling, or a school counselor helping a teenager through the trials of adolescence. Mental health counselors are often the first treatment option for those in need of emotional and psychological support, with many people preferring to try ‘talking therapy’ before opting for more invasive treatment methods such as medication.
As a counselor, you will work with either individuals or family groups to help them examine personal issues that are having a detrimental effect on their mental health and relationships; for instance, depression, anger management, abuse, and self-image. You will help clients to work through these issues and develop coping mechanisms for the future. You might choose to specialize in counseling patients who are struggling with particular issues, such as eating disorders or substance abuse; or a particular approach to counseling, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or psychodynamic therapy.
In order to become a mental health counselor, you should have a Bachelor’s degree in a relevant field such as psychology, sociology, or social work, followed by a Master’s degree in mental health counseling. You will also need 2,000-4,000 hours of clinical experience under the supervision of a licensed mental health professional, which is sometimes included as part of your Master’s degree.
After gaining counseling licensure for your state, you will be required to complete annual continuing education classes to ensure that you keep your license and remain up to date with the latest research and innovations in counseling, so that your clients receive the very best counseling care.
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of psychiatric conditions. Becoming a licensed psychiatrist is perhaps the lengthiest career path in the mental health sector, taking 12 years at the very least after graduating high school. However, as you provide desperate patients with a formal diagnosis and a treatment plan to help them turn their lives around, you will certainly find it no less rewarding.
As a medical doctor, you will be licensed to prescribe medication, as well as offering the patient therapy along a psychodynamic approach. In addition to psychiatric hospitals, general hospitals, and private clinics, psychiatrists can also work in less-typical settings such as prisons, where you’ll be involved in assessing and treating high-risk inmates.
As psychiatry is a branch of medicine, in order to become a psychiatrist you will first need to pass the MCAT and attend medical school, where you can take either a Doctor of Medicine program or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine to qualify as a psychiatrist.
After graduating from medical school, you will spend three to eight years completing a residency in a psychiatric hospital or clinic specializing in the treatment of mental health conditions, where you will continue to learn on the job and hone your skills under the guidance of licensed psychiatrists.
Only after graduating medical school and successfully completing a residency can you apply for your medical license and board certification, offered through the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. Earning your psychiatrist license might be a lengthy process, but it is only the start of a stimulating and fulfilling career.