By JoAnn Seltzer
*This is part of a series of articles provided by CenClear and The Meadows as part of Mental Health Awareness Month.
There is expected to be a critical shortage of mental health workers by 2025, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration.
Those looking for a career may be considering entering this field but may be unsure of what options are available.
People entering the mental health field, like doctors who help patients with physical ailments, can specialize in different areas to meet a person’s needs. Most people seeking mental health services visit, or at least begin with a counselor or therapist.
These words are used interchangeably, Denise Moore, CenClear Mental Health and Drug and Alcohol director, said.
Counselor is often used to avoid confusion since “therapist” can be confused with physical or occupational therapists, Moore said.
In the Mental Health and Drug and Alcohol Outpatient Treatment programs, the therapist’s primary responsibility is to provide counseling, do assessments, set up treatment based on goals set by the patient and counselor together, and measure progress, Moore said.
Each program has specific requirements. Different levels of education are required based on the client’s needs.
A therapist may earn a bachelor’s degree, choose to earn a Master’s degree, or decide to pursue a license.
A person can become a Licensed Professional Counselor, a Licensed Social Worker, or a Licensed Family and Marriage therapist.
To become licensed, a therapist must participate in a practicum and internship along with school work. They then get additional direct service experiences under the direction of on-site supervisors and a university supervisor.
They also take national exams and complete a minimum number of supervised work hours by a person with a license.
Licensed therapists can work at a mental health clinic or they can open their own offices.
A psychologist has a doctorate in clinical psychology. Typically, a psychologist will do more assessments and administer diagnostic tests.
They may do IQ testing, neurological testing, and autism spectrum disorder testing, Moore said. This is really what sets them apart from a counselor, she said. A psychiatrist also has a doctorate.
In addition to counseling, a psychiatrist is a medical doctor, Moore said. Just as a doctor may specialize in oncology to treat patients with cancer, a mental health worker can specialize in psychiatry to help clients that need medication to help with their mental health issues.
The psychiatrist’s primary role is prescribing medication, Moore said. They do psychiatric evaluations as well. Psychologists can also assign a diagnosis, but only a psychiatrist can prescribe medication.
All of those in the mental health field are also trained to do crisis intervention. In the mental health field, nurses often step in to help fill the need for workers.
A Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner (CRNP) has a master’s degree in nursing. CRNP’s can choose to specialize in psychiatry or another area.
They can see people for a collaborating psychiatrist to ensure the medication is working properly and they can get their medication. Each CRNP is overseen by a psychiatrist.
Registered Nurses and Licensed Practical Nurses are also needed in the mental health field. They monitor blood pressure and patients’ vitals to provide the doctors with the information they need to ensure medication is working properly.
They are also able to field calls and help patients to get their medication refilled, Moore said.
Physician Assistants with a psychiatric certification are also helping to fill the need for workers in the mental health field to allow more people to get help. Without their help, the waiting lists would become even longer, Moore said.
The need for mental health workers is continuing to grow. This is a secure career field for those choosing to pursue it.