If you’re interested in becoming a counselor, a therapist, a psychologist, a psychiatrist, or something else in the field of mental health, the first thing you’ll need to do is get a bachelor’s degree. What you do after that will vary depending on the area that you want to work in. Many people start college with only a vague idea if any of what kind of work they would like to do afterward. You can visit your school’s career center to learn more about degrees related to mental health and talk to someone about what type you should pursue. If you know that you want a career in this area but are unsure about what kind, there are a few things to consider.
How Much Education?
If you have a passion for a particular field of mental health, you shouldn’t let educational requirements stand in your way. On the other hand, you’ll probably need a doctorate if you want to be a psychologist, and a psychiatrist attends medical school just like a doctor in any other specialty does. If you pursue a doctorate, you may be able to get fellowships and assistantships that pay your way through graduate school. Medical school is a different story, and most med school students end up taking out student loans. Whether or not you qualify for federal loans, you may need to take out some private loans as well. As a counselor or a therapist, you will generally only need a master’s degree.
What Focus Do You Want?
In general, careers in mental health are either in the area of social work or health care. As a mental health social worker, you will work with health care professionals but your education, your career trajectory and the work you do will be different. You may work in a clinical setting, but your focus will be on helping people connect to the resources they need instead of treating them. You would pursue a degree in social work. People interested in becoming counselors or therapists might pursue undergraduate degrees in psychology. While some jobs might be available to you with a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree will give you more opportunities. Depending on which type of career interests you, this might be in social work, or it might be in an area like mental health counseling or a related field. Finally, there are generally licensing requirements associated with these jobs that vary by state, so be sure that you understand what is required. You may be required to get some clinical experience in order to graduate. For this reason, as with other degrees related to health care, you might be unable to complete the degree entirely online even if you can take a number of your classes this way.
Psychology and Psychiatry
As mentioned above, both of these areas require many more years of education. Furthermore, not every psychologist focuses on mental health although you can get a doctorate in psychology and become a therapist or counselor. If you want to be a psychiatrist, you may want to get an undergraduate degree that prepares you for medical schools, such as biology, but you also might want to minor or take classes in psychology as well.