Pros and Cons of a Career in Health and Human Services
Professionals in the health and human services industry help individuals and families to function effectively within their communities by providing physical, emotional and mental health support services. They work in a variety of roles including health educator, social worker and mental health or substance abuse counselor.
As community health and wellness needs are constant, many positions require some evening or weekend work, as well as travel. Cultural sensitivity and the ability to work with diverse populations are also essential traits. In addition to education requirements for most jobs, state licensure or certification may also be required for many positions.
|Health Educator||Mental Health Counselor||Social Worker||Substance Abuse Counselor|
|Career Overview||Provide instructional outreach to at-risk communities||Provide diagnoses and treatment for mental health disorders||Provide services, resource assistance and case management for needy clients||Provide treatment services and identify behavioral problems for individuals as well as conduct outreach programs|
|Education Required||Bachelor's degree||Master's degree||Bachelor's/Master's degree||High school diploma/Bachelor's degree|
|Program Length||Four years||4-6 years, including the master's degree||4-6 years, including the master's degree||Four years for bachelor's degree only|
|Certification and Licensure||Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) through bachelor's degree and qualifying examination||Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) or Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) through master's degree and clinical experience||State licensure required through bachelor's or master's degree for clinical work||Varied requirements, Certified Addictions Counselor (CAC) available through bachelor's degree|
|Experience Requirement||None; entry-level||Experience required for licensure||Experience required for licensure||Experience required for licensure|
|Job Outlook for 2012-2022||Faster-than-average 21% growth, 21,400 additional jobs*||Much-faster-than-average 29% growth, 48,200 additional jobs*||Faster-than-average 19% growth, 114,100 additional jobs*||Much-faster-than-average 31% growth, 28,200 additional jobs*|
|Mean Salary (2014)||$55,260*||$43,990*||$46,180 (child, family, and school social workers)*||$41,870*|
Sources: * U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
Health educators develop instructional campaigns to promote health prevention and early detection of communicable diseases, such as HIV. They also promote behavioral prevention of other life-threatening illnesses like diabetes or cancer. These professionals also provide direct instruction, distributing materials and connecting people to services. Another important component of health education is public advocacy for additional community resources.
Based on BLS 2010 data, 37% of professional health educators were employed in the health care industry, as providers and insurance carriers attempt to reduce costs. While 15% of these professionals were employed by religious or civic organizations, employment growth in this sector is projected to increase by 60% from 2010-2020, according to BLS data.
Health care educators should possess excellent people skills, as well as writing, problem-solving and instruction skills. Many positions in health education require a minimum of a bachelor's degree. Health education programs prepare you with the natural science and health background, as well as cultural sensitivity and leadership skills necessary for a professional career.
Here are some examples of jobs posted in November 2012:
- California physician's association seeks health educator to plan, organize and direct health education programs. Bachelor's degree required plus five years of community health education experience as well as CPR certification.
- Milwaukee hospital seeks community health worker to conduct community outreach programs promoting prevention, early identification, health maintenance and health care access assistance. Successful applicant will be bilingual and have an associate's degree; bachelor's degree preferred.
- Religious organization in Michigan seeks community health educator for work in local Chippewa Indian tribe providing assistance with culturally sensitive health promotion/disease prevention education. Bachelor of Science required in community or school health education, and CHES credential preferred.
Along with a bachelor's degree, many positions in health education require or prefer bilingual applicants or prospective educators who have specific training in cultural sensitivity. As you will be dealing with health issues, you may also be required to possess CPR or Basic Life Saving certification.
Gaining CHES credentials through the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, Inc. may also provide you with a competitive edge. Obtaining the Certified Health Education Specialist credential requires completing an approved bachelor's degree program and passing a qualifying examination. Your CHES credential is valid for five years, with 75 hours of continuing education required for renewal.
Mental Health Counselor
Mental health counselors diagnose and treat disorders such as anxiety, grief and depression. They coordinate treatment with other professionals, including psychologists and psychiatrists, community resources or treatment facilities. Many counselors treat specific populations like children, adolescents, adults or criminal offenders.
According to BLS 2010 data, 18% of these professionals were employed in individual and family services, while 16% were employed in outpatient services for hospitals and treatment facilities. Well-above-average employment growth is projected for mental health counselors, based on BLS 2010-2020 projections. This growth may be due to counseling seen by providers, insurers and patients as a less costly alternative to psychologists or psychiatrists.
State licensure is required for all mental health counselors with requirements varying by state. Generally, mental health counselors are required to complete certification requirements of the National Board for Certified Counselors. Prospective mental health counselors may obtain either the LPC or LMHC credential. State licensure will also generally require the completion of an approved master's degree program and between 2,000 - 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. You will also need to successfully complete the National Counselor Examination or National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination.
Here are some examples of real job postings from November 2012:
- Massachusetts health care facility seeks licensed mental health clinician with prior experience counseling adults. LPC or LMHC credential required.
- Federal government agency seeks licensed professional mental health counselor/clinical care coordinator to provide services to military veterans. Master's degree required from a program accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs (CACREP).
- Correctional treatment agency seeks mental health counselor for assessment, treatment and case management. Successful candidate must possess Missouri LPC or Licensed Clinical Social Worker credential with related master's degree and two years of professional experience.
Beyond the necessity of obtaining state licensure, mental health professionals may choose to specialize in working with certain types of disorders or specific demographic populations. Through your graduate program, you may choose to focus on serving correctional populations, treatment in residential facilities or providing private-practice services.
Social workers identify clients or manage client cases through a hospital or treatment facility. They help clients work with government agencies and refer clients to other community resources. Social workers that work in a hospital setting or counseling capacity are referred to as 'clinical social workers' or 'advanced generalists'.
Around 40% of social workers, based on BLS 2010 data, were employed by either state or local government agencies. Many of these professionals are known as child, family and school social workers. Another 21% of social workers were employed in individual services.
Child, family and school social workers that are employed through state and local governments are generally required to possess a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW). State licensure requirements vary, but social workers employed in a health care setting are generally required to obtain a master's degree and gain supervised clinical experience. Many states require the completion of a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
Here are some real job postings for child, family and school social workers from November 2012:
- Not-for-profit agency in Michigan seeks social worker to conduct client assessments and work with nurse to develop and monitor care plans for elderly patients. Bachelor of Social Work required with two years or more experience with human services organization.
- Philadelphia social services agency seeks family foster care social worker for case management service delivery to designated children and families. Bachelor's degree in social work required with professional experience in social work or related human services field.
- Cleveland not-for-profit charitable organization seeks state licensed social worker/employment case manager. Bachelor's degree required plus experience working with persons of low income or individuals with disabilities.
Working with diverse populations is extremely important for social workers, as much of your work may entail identifying underserved populations. While the BLS 2010-2020 projections indicate a 25% increase in employment for all social workers, the highest increases will be in health care services as state and local government agencies may face budgetary restrictions. Child, family and school social workers are expected to see a more modest 20% gain in employment, based on BLS 2010-2020 projections, leading to greater competition for jobs. Obtaining a Master of Social Work (MSW) may provide you with a competitive edge for states that only require a bachelor's degree.
Substance Abuse Counselor
Substance abuse counselors evaluate client mental health and develop treatment goals for individuals suffering from addiction. They identify behavioral problems and conduct outreach programs. Around 34% of substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors were employed through either residential or outpatient treatment facilities, based on BLS 2010 data.
Employment growth for substance abuse counselors is partially due to the recognized link between substance abuse and crime. Correctional treatment and community crime prevention techniques may help these professionals see above-average job growth over the coming years, with BLS projections indicating 27% growth from 2010-2020.
Requirements for careers in substance abuse counseling vary based on setting and duties. Some counselors obtain only a high school diploma, while others pursue a bachelor's degree or an advanced degree. Those who work in a private practice will need licensure, which requires passing an exam and obtaining supervised clinical experience. Employment in a health care setting is often supervised by licensed mental health and nursing professionals, and you may be required to obtain CPR or Basic Life Saving certification.
Here are some real job listings for substance abuse counselors from November 2012:
- Residential health care network in Minnesota and Wisconsin seeks substance abuse program assistant to work under the supervision of licensed clinician to collect data, provide patient care and facilitate client education groups. CPR and Basic Life Support certification required.
- Arizona drug treatment facility seeks counselor to supervise, coordinate and facilitate group sessions, lectures, educational groups and individual sessions. Bachelor's degree required plus three years of experience in behavioral health, or master's degree with one year of experience.
- California outpatient treatment provider seeks substance abuse counselor for client interviews, formulating treatment plans, patient counseling and preparing case histories. Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) counseling certification required plus computer skills.
Although certification may not be required for some positions, you may choose to obtain credentials such as the Certified Addictions Counselor (CAC) or certification through the National Board for Certified Counselors, such as the National Certified Counselor (NCC), requiring successful completion of the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification. Many states also provide a path to AOD certification through examination and the completion of a minimum number of postsecondary preparation hours.
State alcohol and drug counselor certification requirements can often be met by the completion of an associate's degree program. Degree programs prepare you for job duties such as intake assessment, treatment plan development, crisis intervention and professional consultations.