For a very long time now, there’s been a harmful and illogical stigma attached to the idea of seeking mental health care services. That has caused people of all walks of life in differing degrees of need to forego getting the kind of assistance that could make a positive difference in their lives. For that reason, mental health professionals have worked tirelessly to educate the public so they’d understand that there’s no shame involved in seeking support.
And in recent years, there have been some indications that the efforts have paid off. In a recent survey, 87% of respondents said that mental disorders were nothing to be ashamed of. And 86% expressed a belief that sufferers can get better. On top of that, a majority even reported personally knowing someone with a mental disorder.
All of this means that we’re about to enter a golden age where mental health professionals can finally focus on doing their jobs rather than on shaping perceptions of their work. And it also means that the mental health care industry is about to expand dramatically in the coming decades. If you want to be a part of it, now is the time to plan a path to a career in the industry. Here’s how.
Decide if a Mental Health Career is Right for You
Before beginning to plan for a future in the mental health industry, you must first decide if you’re a good fit for the work. Of course, having a desire to help others is a good start, but that’s not all you’ll need. It takes a very specific skill set and personality type to be able to withstand the pressures that come with the job. And those pressures are significant. A recent study of mental health professionals found that as many as 61% of them experience signs of burnout related to their work. It’s the kind of challenge that you need to consider quite carefully before going forward.
Choose a Career Track
From a personal development standpoint, the first thing you’ll need to do to get on a path to a mental health career is to decide where you want the career to take you. Depending on the type of work you envision doing, you’ll need specific training and credentials to get where you want to go. And that’s going to alter your plan to get there. For example, if you want to be a mental health counselor, you can complete the majority of your training online – all the way up to a master’s degree in counselling. But if you’d like to become a psychiatrist, you’re going to go all-in for a doctoral degree. A great place to start is to take this university-developed mental health career quiz to decide which career would make a good fit.
Volunteer to Gain Experience
As you begin the training and education you’ll need to achieve your career goal, you can take action to build experience that will be valuable down the line. Countless volunteer opportunities will put you in a mental healthcare setting where you can start seeing the skills you’re trying to build in action. To find them, consider:
- Calling or Visiting a Treatment Center or Hospital – No matter where you live, there’s bound to be a mental health treatment center or hospital nearby that runs a volunteer program. Call or visit locations near you and see if they have positions available involving the type of work you’re training for.
- Contact Mental Health America – Another excellent resource to find volunteer opportunities in your local area is the mental health advocacy group Mental Health America. They even have a handy affiliate finder that will aid in your search.
- Contact Your State and Local Health Departments – One of the best ways to find local mental health volunteer opportunities is to contact your state and local health departments directly. They’re in a unique position to know where areas of need exist in your community and can direct you to them.
Ready to Help
Having completed these steps, you’ll be well on your way to a rewarding career in mental health care. Along the way, you’ll meet and work with countless inspirational people – both colleagues and patients – and have a chance to use your skills to do some real good. It’s the kind of career that will make a very real difference in the lives of those you come into contact with, and that will make all of your hard work to get there more than worthwhile.
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