Behavioral Health Specialist Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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A behavioral health specialist earns an average annual salary of nearly $42,000. Is this worth the education and work involved? Read job postings from real employers and learn the truth about duties and career outlook to decide if becoming a behavioral health specialist is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Being a Behavioral Health Specialist

As a behavioral health specialist or behavioral health consultant, you will work with individuals who are dealing with mild to severe behavioral problems. Following is a list of pros and cons that can help you decide whether or not this occupation is a good fit for you.

Pros of Being a Behavioral Health Specialist
Opportunity to help people*
Good job growth (31% expected growth between 2012 and 2022)*
Can get entry-level job with high school diploma*
Excellent job prospects for those with advanced training*

Cons of Being a Behavioral Health Specialist
Often work with large caseload and few resources*
May work with irate clients*
May work night and weekend shifts*
Will need licensure to work in private practice (requires 2,000-3,000 hours clinical experience)*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) classifies behavioral health specialists as behavioral disorder counselors. In this position, some of your duties would involve performing assessments to identify mental and behavioral conditions, developing treatments plans to help clients modify their behavior and restore relationships, educating family members on how to deal with loved ones who have behavioral disorders and referring clients to external organizations for continued care. As part of your job, you would consult with other healthcare professionals such as psychiatrists, physicians and social workers to coordinate care for clients.

Some of the clients you treat may have problems with addictions to drugs or alcohol, which may be a contributing factor to their destructive behavior. You may treat clients who are voluntarily seeking help or those ordered by a judge to receive treatment. You may also provide services to a specific demographic, such as persons with disabilities, teenagers or veterans. Typically, behavioral health specialists work in either crisis or non-crisis situations. Additionally, you may work for private practice or public establishments, such as employee assistance programs, juvenile detention centers, mental health facilities and prisons.

Job Outlook and Salary

Working in this career field can provide you with good job security, as the overall employment rate is expected to grow much faster than the average for all professions combined between 2012 and 2022, according to the BLS. During this time, jobs at residential mental health and substance abuse facilities are projected to increase by 31%. The BLS noted that population growth is likely to produce more people in need of treatment for behavioral problems.

Also the criminal justice system will continue to need behavioral health specialists to provide rehabilitation services for offenders. Job opportunities will be abundant, as this occupation tends to have a high turnover rate due to workers leaving their jobs within a few years. In addition, employers often have difficulty finding qualified candidates, so your job prospects are likely to be more favorable if you have a degree and applicable certification. As of May 2014, the average salary for behavioral health specialists in the top five industries with the highest employment rates were as followed:

  • Outpatient care centers: $40,800
  • Residential mental retardation, mental health and substance abuse facilities: $37,730
  • Individual and family services: 40,3300
  • Local government: $46,850
  • Psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals: $44,660

Education and Training Requirements

According to the BLS, behavioral disorder counselors who work in a private practice must have a master's degree in counseling or a related field. For those who work outside of private practice, education requirements vary by state. Some employers may accept candidates with a high school diploma, undergraduate or master's degree. Typically, a master's degree is needed to work under limited supervision or to conduct one-on-one counseling.

You will also to be licensed in your state to obtain a position in private practice. To become licensed, you must have a masters' degree and 2,000-3,000 hours of clinical supervised experience. To maintain your license, you must participate in continuing education annually. Depending on the state in which you work, you may also need to become licensed for jobs outside of the private practice field.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Most job postings show that a bachelor's or master's degree is required to work as a behavioral health specialist. Candidates with a bachelor's degree usually need at least three years of experience, while those with a master's degree need at least one year. Below are some postings for behavioral health specialist positions that can help you understand what employers were looking for during April 2012:

  • A Tucson, AZ, healthcare company wants to hire an integrated behavioral specialist to provide direct care for patients in need of behavioral support due to medical problems. This candidate will work closely with medical management staff and provide assistance with patient compliance. Qualification requirements include at least three years of experience in primary care, experience in a supervisory role, a 4-year degree in a social services field and an independent behavioral health practitioner license.
  • A non-profit company in the Chester County, PA, area is looking for a behavioral specialist consultant to assist in developing behavioral interventions for special needs children and their families. This position requires a master's degree in a related discipline and one year of postgraduate clinical experience. This employer prefers candidates with a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) credential and experience dealing with autistic children.
  • A behavioral health services company in Chandler, OK, seeks a behavioral health rehabilitation specialist with a 4-year degree, certification as a behavioral health rehabilitation specialist and certification as a behavioral health case manager, preferably. This candidate will design and administer direct care in an individual and group setting to teach clients basic life skills.
  • A Wilmington, NC, health services company is seeking a behavioral health specialist to provide support for patients dealing with mental health and substance abuse problems. This job requires working with the mobile crisis management team and assisting with interventions. Candidates must meet at least one of the following requirements: have a license or provisional license in the field, have at least one year of experience doing interventions for this demographic, have a bachelor's degree in any field with four years of postgraduate experience, have a bachelor's degree in a human services discipline with three years of experience or have a master's degree in human services with one year of experience.

How Can I Stand Out?

Earn a Master's Degree

Since education requirements for positions outside of private practice vary from state to state, you can improve your chances of qualifying for a job by earning a master's degree. Also, if you're interested in providing individual counseling sessions, you will most likely need a master's degree. Common degree programs offered include the Master of Professional Studies in Integrated Behavioral Health, the Master of Public Health (MPH) and the Master of Science in Public Health (MSPH) with a concentration in behavioral health.

Become Certified

You can further stand out by obtaining a professional designation. The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) offers the Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) and the Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA) credentials. You are eligible to take the BCBA certification exam if you have a bachelor's or master's degree in behavior analysis or a closely related discipline, one year of full-time teaching experience at a college or university, 225 hours of graduate classroom training or a doctorate degree that was earned ten years ago. For the BCaBA credential, you need to have a bachelor's degree in a related field and at least 135 hours of classroom training.

Other Careers to Consider

Psychologist

If you would like to find out what causes a person to exhibit certain behaviors or develop emotional and mental disorders, becoming a psychologist may be the ideal career for you. For a job that specifically deals with studying brain function and behavior, you would work as a neuropsychologist. If you would rather diagnose and treat patients with behavioral, emotional or mental disorders, you would work as a clinical psychologist.

You would most likely need a research degree, such a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Psychology for a career in neuropsychology. To become a clinical psychologist, a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) is usually required. You may have good job security in this profession, as employment is projected to increase at a faster than average rate through 2020, according to the BLS. The BLS also reported that as of May 2011, the median salary you can expect to earn as a psychologist is $68,000.

School Counselor

If you would like a job that combines counseling and education, working as a school counselor may be perfect for you. In this role, you may counsel students who have problems with behavior or low self-esteem, or those seeking academic advice. You can work in an elementary, middle or high school, as well as higher education institutions.

For a position at an elementary school, you may help educators identity children with behavioral or developmental problems by conducting classroom and playtime observations. For a position working with older children or young adults, you may provide counseling on topics such as alcohol, drugs, bullying, college and career planning. To work in this field, most states require that you complete a master's program in school counseling or another related field. You would also need a license to practice in your state. The median salary you can earn in this occupation is $54,000 according to 2011 stats from the BLS.

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Featured Schools

George Mason University

  • Applied Behavior Analysis Certificate

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Keiser University

  • B.A. - Psychology

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Saint Joseph's University

  • MS Criminal Justice with Behavior Analysis Specialization

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Colorado Technical University

  • B.S. - Psychology
  • B.S. - Psychology - Organizational Behavior
  • B.S. - Psychology - Consumer Behavior

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Northcentral University

  • PhD in Psychology - Health Psychology
  • PhD in Psychology - Gender Studies
  • M.A. in Psychology - General Psychology
  • M.A. in Psychology - Gender Studies

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Penn Foster High School

  • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
  • HS Diploma

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Indiana Wesleyan University

  • M.S. Nursing - Psychiatric Mental Health

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Sacred Heart University

  • MSAP - Community Psychology
  • MSAP - General Track
  • MSAP - Industrial/Organizational Technology

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