What Is a Mental Health Professional? Career Definition and Types

Updated December 9, 2022

Healthcare professionals provide medical care to those who suffer from illnesses. Mental health disorders require specialized care from professionals who have been trained to identify and treat them. These mental health professionals work in various capacities across the healthcare sector as therapists, counselors and social workers. In this article, we explore the various kinds of mental health professionals and the steps you can take to become one.

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What do mental health professionals do?

Mental health professionals work in various capacities to diagnose, treat and offer medical and physical care to individuals suffering from mental illnesses and disorders. These illnesses may be mild or severe enough to require hospitalization. They include anxiety, substance abuse and addiction, depression, schizophrenia and others. Mental health professionals are not limited to working in clinics and hospitals. They also work in schools, government agencies and research facilities. They may also work in consulting roles while managing a private practice.

Related: 18 Types of Therapists To Explore as a Career

Types of mental health professionals

Many types of mental health professionals attend to specific kinds of mental health issues in different ways. They mostly include doctors, nurses, therapists and counselors.

1. Certified peer specialist

National average salary: $14.72 per hour

Primary duties: A certified peer specialist provides support to persons with mental health issues. Certified peer specialists are considered to have acquired some expertise in dealing with mental health issues, thus they can provide practical solutions. Their primary duties include creating recovery plans, assisting clients to articulate and achieve their goals and providing personal coaching to lead their clients to full rehabilitation.

2. Mental health case manager

National average salary: $47,459 per year

Primary duties: A mental health case manager works for a public mental health service and is responsible for helping clients enrolled in a program achieve their recovery goals. The case manager's primary duties include creating individual plans based on the patient's goals, discussing a wide range of treatment options and helping the client make a suitable choice and maintaining a file on each case.

3. Psychiatric technician

National average salary: $24.38 per hour

Primary duties: A psychiatric technician assists other mental health professionals such as psychiatrists, psychologists or psychiatric nurses to provide care to mental health patients at a facility.

Their primary duties include helping patients carry out daily tasks such as bathing and getting dressed, taking them to any recreational activities in the facility and bringing them meals. Psychiatric technicians may also be responsible for measuring and recording the patient's vital signs, administering medication and physically restraining patients in a crisis.

4. Family therapist

National average salary: $53,651 per year

Primary duties: A family therapist is responsible for ensuring that families function effectively. They provide treatment for mental health disorders. Their primary duties include meeting with the entire family as a group to analyze the issues they face, address any emotional or mental issues and proffer useful solutions.

Family therapists also meet with members of the family separately to offer one-on-one counseling. The ultimate goal is to resolve any psychological or emotional conflicts in the family.

5. Licensed clinical social worker

National average salary: $62,831 per year

Primary duties: A licensed clinical social worker provides clinical support to patients suffering from emotional and mental health issues. Their primary duties involve asking detailed questions to make an accurate assessment of the issues their patient is dealing with, providing mental health counseling to their patients and maintaining detailed records of case history and treatment plans. Clinical social workers may also administer social programs and liaise with other mental health professionals to provide adequate support to their clients.

6. Licensed professional counselor

National average salary: $69,462 per year

Primary duties: A licensed professional counselor provides mental health support, especially to individuals dealing with substance abuse and other addictions. They also deal with behavioral and emotional issues or disorders in individuals. Licensed professional counselors may work in addiction centers, educational institutions or run a private practice.

Their primary duties include diagnosing mental, behavioral and emotional disorders, treating these disorders and offering therapy services in group and individual settings. Obtaining a license in this field requires a graduate degree in counseling, at least 300 hours of supervised client contact and at least 3000 hours of post-graduate counseling experience.

7. Registered mental health nurse

National average salary: $1,569 per week

Primary duties: A registered mental health nurse provides nursing care and other kinds of medical support to mental health patients. They are responsible for administering medication, reviewing patient care plans and adjusting them according to the patient's progress, updating patient records and helping patients and their families deal with the stigma attached to mental health issues. Mental health nurses may also perform outpatient visits, arrange additional support for their patients and encourage them if they need it.

8. Psychologist

National average salary: $87,222 per year

Primary duties: A psychologist studies human behavior and how people interact with one another and their environment. They often collaborate with physicians and other health practitioners to treat mental illnesses and disorders. Their primary duties include collecting information through surveys and research, discovering behavioral patterns and using them to predict reactions, diagnosing and treating emotional or mental disorders and developing intensive programs to address psychological issues. Psychologists may work in clinics, schools and research agencies or may be consultants with a private practice.

9. Psychotherapist

National average salary: $46.09 per hour

Primary duties: A psychotherapist provides therapeutic assistance to patients suffering from emotional and mental disorders ranging from stress and anxiety, to depression, bipolar disorder and behavioral issues.

Their primary duties include listening to people talk about their feelings, assisting patients in dealing with unhealthy reactions by developing strategies to change them, evaluating each session and keeping reports on them and liaising with other health providers to support their clients. Psychotherapy can be provided by a psychologist, a psychiatrist or a licensed counselor.

10. Psychiatric nurse

National average salary: $108,658 per year

Primary duties: A psychiatric nurse works in a psychiatric facility to offer care to patients who reside there. They are responsible for administering medication and may also offer therapy services. Psychiatric nurses may also diagnose mental health conditions and prescribe treatment plans.

11. Psychiatrist

National average salary: $224,247 per year

Primary duties: A psychiatrist provides medical care to individuals suffering from all kinds of mental health illnesses. They are qualified doctors who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses.

Their primary duties include collecting medical history from patients or family members, ordering tests and analyzing the results, prescribing appropriate treatment plans and preparing official health documents for record purposes. A psychiatrist is a qualified medical doctor, unlike any other professional in this list, as they must have completed medical school and all the other training required of physicians.

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How to become a mental health professional

There are different paths to becoming a mental health professional. We'll explain them and outline the steps you need to take.

1. Obtain the required education

The first step for a mental health professional is a bachelor's degree. This can be in clinical psychology, human behavior, social psychology or any related fields. Since most mental health professionals require a master's degree, you will also need to obtain a graduate degree in counseling, psychology or another a relevant field. If you'd like to become a psychiatrist, you would need to go to medical school, complete a specialization in psychiatry and participate in a residency.

2. Gain experience

Before you can become a licensed professional, you need to meet the minimum experience requirement. The experience requirements differ across regions, but typically range between 2,000 and 4,000 hours, some of which includes direct patient contact. You can gain some experience by working under the supervision of a licensed mental health professional.

3. Obtain a license

Once you have gained the required experience, the next step is to apply for your license. To do this, you'll need to pass a standard written examination. This license is renewable, thus, licensed mental health professionals must continue their education at the master's or doctoral level to remain eligible for certification.

Read more: How To Become a Licensed Mental Health Counselor

4. Prepare your application

Now that you have all the requirements to become a mental health professional, you need to start applying to jobs. Prepare a resume with a career summary that pinpoints your goals and motivation as a professional. Highlight your experience and skill. You should also prepare a cover letter to show how you are suited for the role as a mental health professional.

Read more: 6 Mental Health Jobs and Ways To Succeed in the Field

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