What Are the Pros and Cons of Being a Mental Health Therapist?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published November 23, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A mental health therapist is a professional who listens to people's problems and offers guidance on ways to handle stressful situations and try to feel better. If you like working with people and want to help them with their problems, you might enjoy working as a mental health therapist. Learning about the pros and cons of being a mental health therapist can give you clarity on whether you would enjoy this career. In this article, we discuss what a mental health therapist does and explore the pros and cons of working as one.

What does a mental health therapist do?

A mental health therapist works in the field of mental health to counsel people and give advice on coping with and preventing various mental health issues. They focus on ways to resolve and prevent problems and to improve their clients' general mental and emotional well-being. Some issues that mental health therapists counsel others on include family issues, marital problems, stress management, coping with grief, substance abuse or addiction, parenting and dealing with anxiety and depression.

Here are several of the job duties of a mental health therapist:

  • Lead individual or group therapy sessions

  • Encourage people to openly discuss their problems and fears

  • Gather information on clients to diagnose mental health issues

  • Develop treatment plans for clients

  • Fill out, organize and submit necessary paperwork

  • Conduct regular research to stay informed and aware of the latest mental health concerns, treatments and medicines

  • Meet or talk with other mental health professionals to collaborate, share ideas and knowledge and offer input

Related: What Is a Mental Health Professional? Career Definition and Types

11 pros and cons of being a mental health therapist

There are both advantages and disadvantages to working as a mental health therapist, and it's important to understand them to help you decide whether this career is right for you. Here are some of the pros and cons to consider:

Pros

Mental health therapists do a lot of good for many people, and most therapists enjoy their jobs. These are some of the positive aspects of working in this line of work:

1. Job satisfaction

Probably one of the top reasons that many people become a mental health therapist is because they find the work rewarding. Helping people to work through their problems and feel better about themselves and their lives makes mental health therapists feel good about what they're doing. In fact, many people in the mental health profession see it less as a job and more as their calling. Mental health therapists play a role in people getting better and stronger. For those people who like to help others, this is a very satisfying career choice.

2. Good salary

Working in mental health is usually a well-paid profession. The average annual salary for a therapist is $71,863 per year, and for a psychologist, it's $94,840 per year. Many mental health therapists who have their own practices earn significantly more, even up to $200,000. Psychiatrists are mental health professionals who have a medical degree and are able to prescribe medicine to help fight mental disorders and ease the symptoms of such problems as depression and anxiety. Many also provide therapy sessions and counseling, just like a mental health therapist does. The average annual salary in the U.S. for a psychiatrist is $257,009 per year.

Related: Psychiatrist vs. Therapist: Differences and FAQ

3. Status

Being a mental health therapist is a highly respected job. Most people look up to these therapists and hold them in high regard because their work is valuable and they help people. Therefore, those who work in the field are proud to say that they do so. They consider it an honor to do this work, and people admire them for it.

4. Flexibility

Another advantage of being a mental health therapist is that it often provides considerable flexibility. Many mental health therapists set their own hours and can work on a schedule that is convenient for them. Some prefer to work nights or weekends, and many work only part time to allow more time for family or personal pursuits.

Since many therapists choose to start their own practice, this also allows the flexibility of being able to make their own decisions. Many people love the idea of starting their own business, and this field is a good opportunity to do so. It allows you the freedom to control your hours, your client base, how often you work and how much you charge each client.

5. Working with a variety of people and topics

For those who enjoy variety and versatility, working as a mental health therapist could be a good job for you. In this line of work, you meet a wide range of people from all different cultures, backgrounds and locations. You may sometimes work with older adults and other times with young children, and you could work with a group or one-on-one with a single individual. Also, you may hear a variety of different problems and concerns from clients, from relationship issues to concerns about self-esteem or aging. This diversity in clientele and subject matter is a plus for many people.

6. Many employment opportunities

Mental health therapists have many jobs that they can do, meaning that there are many employment opportunities for them. Not only can they open their own practice, but they may also work in clinics, hospitals, schools, inpatient care facilities or in a private practice run by another therapist. They can also work just about anywhere in the world, because people need mental health therapists everywhere. They may work with private citizens, veterans, teenagers, or they might focus on individuals and couples or entire families or communities.

Related: 6 Mental Health Career Fields and Jobs To Consider

7. Good job outlook

The mental health field has a good job outlook. Mental health therapists are already in high demand, with so many jobs requiring them. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook from 2020 to 2030 for substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health therapists is 23%, which is far above average. This field also has a good potential for growth and advancement, if mental health therapists pursue additional education or take on additional responsibilities in their job roles and work toward a promotion.

Related: Everything You Need To Know About How To Become a Therapist

Cons

Even though mental health therapy can be a very positive career choice, it also has its challenges. Here are some of the potential downsides of working in this field:

1. Schedule can be inconsistent and unpredictable

For some people, a flexible schedule working nontraditional hours can be a positive thing, but for others, it's a drawback of the job. Many mental health therapists need to be available to work nights and weekends, for example, as many of their clients want to have therapy sessions outside of their regular working hours. Also, therapists are essentially on call at all hours of the day and night. Their clients rely on them to help them in moments of great stress or emotional trauma, and a mental health crisis like this can arise even in the middle of the night.

2. Stressful work environment

There are many ways in which working as a mental health therapist can be challenging. For some people, the work environment may feel stressful. Besides the fluctuating hours that might take away from time for friends, family and hobbies and activities, many mental health therapists may struggle with the workload of dealing with paperwork, insurance companies and other administrative tasks. For those therapists who start their own practice, they may become concerned about attracting clients to their business, tending to billing issues, getting malpractice coverage and keeping up on the maintenance and cost of their office space.

Many mental health therapists also feel emotional stress. Because therapists listen to other people's problems all day and respond with empathy and compassion, these problems can begin to weigh on the therapists. They may begin to worry about their clients excessively and stress about their problems as if they were their own. However, if mental health therapists can keep a professional distance, take time for themselves and talk to their own therapists when needed, this can help alleviate their stress.

3. Requires extensive study

Becoming a mental health therapist requires a lot of time and effort. Most therapists get a master's degree and therefore attend at least five to six years of college. Many then do an extended internship for up to a year before seeking paid employment, and they may also need to get certain certifications and licenses. Becoming a psychotherapist, a psychiatrist who does mental health therapy, requires as much as 12 years of studying, medical residency and becoming board certified. In addition, mental health therapists need certain skills, such as patience, flexibility and a desire to help others.

4. Loneliness

Even though mental health therapists are constantly working with clients and meeting new people all the time, this work can often be lonely. Even when working with groups of people, therapists are there for their clients, listening to their problems and trying to help. It's a one-sided relationship, since the clients don't listen to their therapists' struggles in return. It's important for mental health therapists to have another outlet where they can relieve their own stresses and problems, such as by talking to family members, friends or another therapist that they choose to have sessions with.

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