Mental Health Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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Learn about careers in mental health. Get job descriptions, salary and education requirement information. Get straight talk about the pros and cons of a mental health career.
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Pros and Cons of a Mental Health Career

The mental health field provides services to patients with emotional, behavioral and mental disorders. Hospitals, clinics and physician's offices require workers at all levels to care for psychiatric patients. Here's a list of pros and cons for three possible careers within the mental health industry:

Psychiatric Technician Psychiatric Nurse Psychiatrist
Career Overview Psychiatric technicians provide care, such as feeding and bathing, to patients with mental illness. Psychiatric nurses are registered nurses who provide treatment to mentally ill patients under the direction of a physician. Psychiatrists are physicians who diagnose and treat patients with mental illness.
Education Requirements Certificate or associate's degree Associate's to bachelor's degree in nursing (RN) Medical degree (MD)
Program Length One semester to two years 2-4 years Eight years (including undergraduate education)
Additional Training On-the-job training Job training in psychiatric care and mental health Residency in psychiatry (typically lasts about four years)
Certification and Licensing License required in some states RN license required Medical license required
Experience Requirement Several years to several months of training; employers may require 1-2 years of experience Can obtain entry-level positions after earning an RN license; mental health nursing jobs may require 2-5 years of experience Four years of residency training; employers may request one year or more of work experience
Job Outlook for 2012-2022 Slow growth of 4% predicted* Faster-than-average growth of 19% predicted for registered nurses in general* Faster-than-average growth of 18% predicted for physicians in general*
Median Salary About $31,130 in 2014* About $62,948 in 2014** About $181,880 in 2014*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com

Psychiatric Technician

Psychiatric technicians provide care for patients in a psychiatric facility. They may be responsible for feeding, bathing, taking vital signs, helping patients with daily activities and giving medications under the direction of a physician. Technicians monitor patients and report their observations in patients' records. Psychiatric technicians may work in hospitals, clinics and outpatient facilities.

Requirements

A certificate or associate's degree can qualify you for work as a technician, and training programs are available at technical schools and community colleges. Courses in a psychiatric technician program include biology, counseling and psychology. Hospitals, clinics and outpatient facilities offer on-the-job training under the direction of experienced workers. California, Kansas, Arkansas and Colorado require psychiatric technicians to have a license. Licensing requirements may include completion of an approved training program and an exam.

Below are some examples of psychiatric technician positions available in November 2012:

  • An employer in the California healthcare industry wanted a psychiatric technician to provide services to patients deemed incompetent to stand trial. Applicants needed a current psychiatric technician license in the state of California. The employer also required candidates to have 1-2 years of experience in an inpatient facility. Knowledge of psychopharmacology, nursing fundamentals and medical terminology was important as well.
  • A Hawaii healthcare industry employer was looking for a psychiatric technician to provide services to patients in a mental health clinic or psychiatric hospital. The employer required applicants to have at least two years of experience in the field. Candidates with certification from the American Association of Psychiatric Technicians were preferred.
  • A psychiatric unit of a medical hospital in Washington, DC, sought a psychiatric technician to provide patient care. Applicants needed a minimum of one year of experience in a psychiatric facility. The employer also required CPR certification and preferred candidates with at least one year of college education in healthcare, counseling, psychology or a related field.

Standing Out

Though all employers don't strictly require postsecondary education, completing courses or a program in a relevant field can help you beat the competition. Certification as a psychiatric technician is voluntary, but it may help you stand out when searching for a position. The American Association of Psychiatric Technicians offers four levels of certification that can help you demonstrate expertise in the field.

Psychiatric Nurse

Psychiatric nurses are registered nurses who provide nursing care to patients in a psychiatric hospital, mental health clinic or outpatient facility. Registered nurses may direct the activities of aides and technicians, coordinate care with physicians and provide support to patients and their families. Psychiatric nurses administer diagnostic tests and assist physicians in developing treatment plans.

Requirements

Aspiring psychiatric registered nurses must complete an associate's degree, bachelor's degree or diploma program in nursing. All states require registered nurses to obtain a license. Licensing requirements include completion of an approved nursing education program, clinical training and the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses. Employers may require psychiatric registered nurses to have experience in a psychiatric facility.

Below are some examples of psychiatric nurse positions available in November 2012:

  • An Arizona employer in the healthcare industry was searching for a psychiatric nurse to provide nursing care to patients in behavioral health clinics. Duties included administering medications, managing cases, and planning treatments. Applicants needed an active Arizona registered nursing license, CPR certification, phlebotomy experience and a minimum of five years of experience.
  • A North Carolina employer sought a psychiatric registered nurse to assess patients, plan treatments, and provide nursing services in a 72-bed treatment facility for adolescents. Applicants needed an active North Carolina nursing license and 2-3 years of experience in a psychiatric facility.
  • A New York employer was looking for a psychiatric registered nurse to provide services in a correctional facility. A New York nursing license and at least two years of experience in a psychiatric health facility were required.

Standing Out

While employers may not require certification in order to work as a psychiatric nurse, registered nurses can obtain the specialty psychiatric-mental health nursing credential from the American Nurses Credentialing Center to get an edge in the field. To qualify for the credential, you need a valid registered nursing license, two years of experience as an RN, 2,000 hours of clinical practice in psychiatric nursing and 30 hours of continuing education in psychiatric nursing. You also need to pass an exam.

Psychiatrist

Psychiatrists are physicians who diagnose and treat patients with mental, behavioral or emotional disorders. Psychiatrists use a variety of techniques to treat patients, such as psychoanalysis, medication and hospitalization. Psychiatrists may conduct therapy for individuals or treat groups of patients.

Requirements

Psychiatrists must complete the education and training for a medical doctor, which includes medical school and a residency program in psychiatry. Psychiatrists may also complete a residency program in a psychiatric subspecialty, such as child and adolescent, addiction, or geriatric psychiatry. All states require physicians to obtain a license in order to practice medicine. Licensing requirements include completing an approved education program, a residency, and the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination.

Some examples of psychiatrist positions available in November 2012 are below:

  • An employer in Indiana was looking for a psychiatrist to treat adults and children on an outpatient basis. The applicant needed an Indiana license to practice psychiatry and must have completed a psychiatric residency program. The employer preferred applicants with board certification in a specialty area of psychiatry.
  • A California psychiatric hospital wanted a weekend psychiatrist to provide patient care in a 30-bed hospital. Applicants needed board certification, as well as experience in eating disorders or addiction in an acute care hospital.
  • An employer in Massachusetts was seeking a psychiatrist to treat patients in an outpatient facility. Applicants needed a Massachusetts license to practice psychiatry and board certification in the field. The employer also required applicants to have at least one year of experience in an outpatient facility.

Standing Out

Board certification is a voluntary process that many physicians complete to stand out in the field; in some cases, it's required by employers. The American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology offers certification in psychiatry. Sub-specialty certifications are also available in addiction psychiatry, child and adolescent psychiatry, geriatric psychiatry and forensic psychiatry.

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Featured Schools

Strayer University

  • Master of Science in Health Services Administration: Clinical Care Management
  • Master of Health Services Admin
  • Bachelor of Business Admin: Health Services Admin Concentration

What is your highest level of education completed?

Southern New Hampshire University

  • MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling
  • MS in Healthcare Administration
  • BA in Psychology - Mental Health
  • BA in Psychology - Forensic Psychology

What is your highest level of education?

Kaplan University

  • Master: Psychology/Applied Behavioral Analysis
  • Master: Psychology/General Psychology
  • BS in Psychology in Addictions
  • Bachelor: Health Science

Which subject are you interested in?

Grand Canyon University

  • Ph.D. in General Psychology - Performance Psychology
  • M.S. in Professional Counseling with an Emphasis in Trauma
  • BS in Counseling - Addiction, Chemical Dependency, and Substance Abuse
  • Graduate Certificate of Completion in Forensic Psychology

What is your highest level of education?

Ashford University

  • BA/Applied Behavioral Science - No Concentration
  • B.A. - Health Care Admin

What is your highest level of education?

Indiana Wesleyan University

  • M.S. Nursing - Psychiatric Mental Health
  • Bachelor of Science in Addictions Couseling
  • A.S. General Studies - Life Sciences
  • Undergraduate Certificate - Pastoral Care and Counseling

What is your highest level of education?

Regent University

  • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Healthcare Leadership
  • Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling
  • Bachelor of Science in Psychology - Clinical and Counseling Psychology

What is your highest level of education completed?

University of the Rockies

  • Psy.D. in Mental Health Admin
  • MA Counseling - Clinical Mental Health Counseling
  • M.A. in Human Services - Mental Health Admin

What is your highest level of education?