How to Become a Mental Health Psychologist

What is a Mental Health Psychologist?

Mental health psychology is an important career that enables one to diagnose and to treat psychological problems that beset a lot of people. When people experience these problems, they can hardly live a happy life much less be productive at it. Usually, when these conditions go untreated, the end result is fatal. Hence, mental health psychologist is a person who helps the mentally troubled person deal with the difficult situation and get back on feet.

There are a number of common problems that mental health psychologists handle such as anxiety and depression. They use a number of approaches to such situations; through talking one to help the patient identify the areas of life that may be of trouble and encouraging group sessions for the patient are some of the ways through which the professional helps one in problems.

What is the Role of a Psychologist in Mental Health?

Within the field of mental health, an interdisciplinary team is often employed and utilized to provide expert treatment and support to affected individuals. A psychologist’s role within this team is to interpret and apply principles of psychology to better understand, prevent or treat the mental health issues of their patients. They are uniquely placed within the mental health team to carry out psychological evaluations of patients using a variety of standardized tests and assessments. Such tests can be used to diagnosis as well as contribute to a needs-based assessment of suitable treatment options.

Psychologists in this role can then provide psychotherapy with the aims of challenging and fundamentally changing the emotions and, subsequently, the behavior associated with ongoing mental health concerns. Psychologists work within mental health teams in both hospital and community settings since their skills can provide insight to a patient in acute crisis as well as ongoing support for chronic mental health conditions.

Not only do they work with affected individuals, but they can provide assistance to couples and families, increasing education and offering support. They also run group psychotherapy sessions for clients where appropriate. Psychologists in this area work closely with other members of the interdisciplinary health care team and will refer patients into other services if appropriate.

What Does a Mental Health Psychologist Do?

  • Building the capacity of patients suffering from mental challenges to better confront the problems they experience in day to day life.
  • Depending on the analysis of a mental health psychologist, the patient maybe referred to another specialist who will be able to handle the problem by this professional.
  • They are also involved in advocacy of measures and steps that are meant to improve the quality of mental health of those in the community.
  • Conducting research into areas that affect the mental health of people to make the profession more effective.
  • Mental health psychologists may also work with other professionals to come up with appropriate and effective methods of treating a patient. This is because the mental problem may present itself as a case that needs a multi-disciplinary approach.

Related: How to Become a Mental Health Counselor

Why Do We Need Mental Health Psychologists?

Life is not always easy, and anyone may face a difficult situation or challenge, which is hard to navigate alone. That is when a mental health psychologist can help.

A mental health psychologist is trained to identify and treat mental health and emotional issues that may be affecting a person’s life. Mental health psychologists may work with a wide range of people from children to adults.

The human mind is complex, and some people develop mental health conditions, such as a panic disorder, addiction or depression that is difficult to deal with. Patients may feel confused and even frightened by their problems.

Mental health psychologists are needed to guide patients through diagnosis and treatment and help them get a better understanding of their problems and how to deal with their condition.

Even if an individual does not have a psychiatric condition, there may come a time when they go through a difficult situation, such as a divorce or death of a family member. During a trying life event, it can be hard to deal with all the emotions and feelings that may develop. Mental health psychologists can help someone who is going through a challenging time develop healthy ways to work through their issues.

Where Does a Mental Health Psychologist Work?

Mental health psychologists generally work in the following settings:

  • Hospitals and clinics
  • Rehabilitation centers for drug addicts
  • Colleges and universities
  • Independent organizations; industries and companies
  • Forensic departments for crime investigation

What are the Requirements to Become a Mental Health Psychologist?

Education

A bachelor’s degree in a subject area, such as psychology or social work is usually the first educational step in becoming a mental health psychologist. A bachelor’s degree in psychology often includes classes in abnormal psychology, statistics and human development. Although it can vary, bachelor’s degree programs in psychology or a closely related field often take about four years of full-time study to complete. A four-year psychology degree provides students with the foundation to work in the field and also to be considered for a graduate program.

The next educational requirement is earning a master’s degree in psychology. A master’s degree in mental health psychology often includes advanced courses in research methods, multiple theoretical perspectives and human development.

Training may allow students to select a specific area of emphasis, such as adolescent mental health or substance abuse. Although individual programs vary, most mental health psychology master’s degree programs take about two years of full-time study to complete.

As part of their educational requirements, many mental health psychology master’s degree programs require students to complete an internship working under the direction of a licensed therapist or psychologist. Students may complete internships in settings, such as correction facilities, psychiatric hospitals and substance abuse treatment centers.

A doctorate is the terminal degree available for those interested in becoming a mental health psychologist. Although requirements vary, most doctorate programs in mental health phycology include clinical practice, research and completion of a dissertation.

Ph.D. programs in mental health psychology vary in length depending on the individual doctorate program a person chooses and their education.

In most cases, a mental health psychologist needs a doctorate to work in a clinical setting treating patients. There may be some instances and settings in which a master’s degree in psychology is the minimum requirement. But individuals with a master’s degree would be limited in their scope of practice.

Licensing

Like in almost every other profession, one needs to pass a number of requirements to be allowed to work. It is necessary that one completes a doctoral degree in psychology and a given duration of supervised clinical experience in the form of an internship. There is a special exam also that needs to be passed by whoever wishes to be licensed to work. Also, to maintain the relevance of licenses, one needs to keep on learning and working actively.

What is the Work Environment for a Mental Health Psychologist?

Mental health psychologists take a lot of time in the field. Usually, they have to work with other doctors to bring meaningful treatment to patients. Also, they are expected to schedule their work hours to accommodate the needs of those patients who may have prohibitive work hours.

A lot of their time is also used in research. A mental health psychologist who works privately may be able to organize his time much more independently than one employed by a given institution and body. To be able to adjust to this demanding work pattern, one needs to be enduring in character and patient.

What is the Salary of a Mental Health Psychologist?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics the average salary for a mental health counselor in 2014 was $43,990. The job prospects look positive especially looking at the fact that many insurance companies seek to offer compensation for clients who go for the services of a mental health psychologist.

What Careers are Similar to Mental Health Psychology?

There are other careers, which are similar to mental health psychology including the following:

General Psychologist: As the title implies, general psychologists do not specialize in a particular patient population. Instead, they treat people with varied mental health issues and conditions. For instance, a psychologist may treat people with conditions, such as bipolar disorder, depression or obsessive compulsive disorder. General psychologists often use different techniques to diagnose and treat a patient depending on their diagnosis. In addition to a bachelor’s and master’s degree, general psychologists must have a doctorate to practice. In the United States, general psychologists must also become licensed as a psychologist in order to treat patients.

Marriage and Family Therapists: No relationship is without at least occasional conflicts. Marriage and family therapists work with siblings’ couples, parents and children or entire families to improve their relationships. Marriage and family therapists are experts in understanding family dynamics that may play a role in problems. Marriage and family therapists may help patients learn more effective ways to communicate and deal with interpersonal issues that may affect their relationships. The road to becoming a marriage and family therapist includes earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a closely related field followed by a master’s degree in counseling. All 50 states in the US require marriage and family therapists to be licensed to practice.

Substance Abuse Counselors: Substance abuse counselors primarily focus on treating people with substance abuse problems. In many cases, there are also underlying emotional issues that led to the initial drug abuse. Substance abuse counselor helps patients deal with these underlying issues, as well as deal with their addiction. Counselors may conduct individual and group counseling sessions and monitor addiction treatment progress. The requirements to work as a substance abuse counselor often vary by state, and there is no standard education requirement. But many employers may look for at least a bachelor’s or master’s degree in counseling.

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