There are many paths to a career in the mental health helping professions! By exploring the pages in this section of the website, you will become more familiar with some of the options before you. Each career description page will address what that field is, who tends to work in that field, where those jobs are located, how to begin, and why someone would be motivated to pursue such a career. They will also provide links to relevant organizations and potential training institutions to consider pursuing.
Careers in the mental health helping professions are generally more similar than different! While each path has its unique considerations, there are many ways to find a similarly fulfilling and lucrative career.
Below is a generic description of a mental health helping profession which could apply to any of the more specific career pathways which you’ll be reading about on this website. This general overview gives you a preview of what to expect on each of the subsequent pages in this menu, as well as demonstrating some of the key characteristics which will be true across most/all opportunities covered on this site. Here, I’ll try to highlight what is universally true of all the careers discussed on this website, and then on each of the subsequent pages I’ll attempt to focus on what makes them unique–but remember that overall there tends to be more overlap than separation between these various identities.
Each career page will include a brief definition of ‘what’ that field entails.
The “Mental Health Helping Professions” is a field focused on understanding the human mind and behavior, and using this understanding to work toward improvement of functioning and mental wellbeing. While some careers in this field will heavily involve scholarly/academic activities such as conducting research, teaching college courses, supervising trainees, or writing treatment manuals, most of what comprises this field is what we could loosely call “therapy” in the sense of treatment for psychological problems. As the name implies, the field of mental health helping professions is a big umbrella of various sub-specialties which each, in their own way, contribute to assisting in the endeavor toward mental health. In Michigan, as anywhere else, there is a great need for these professional services and this is an important occupation to our society.
Each career page will briefly describe the sorts of people ‘who’ are drawn to that field.
Mental Health Helping Professionals are those individuals who have extensively studied the human condition and theories of psychopathology and psychotherapy, and they use their knowledge and skills with their clients/patients to work toward some sort of functional improvement. The overall philosophy of this field is one of hope for change and growth, belief in the power of human connection, and compassion for others’ humanity. People working in this field tend to be outgoing, open-minded, interested in the inner lives of others, and empathic toward the various kinds of suffering they encounter in their work. While the exact specifics of their work routines vary extremely widely, one could broadly predict that a mental health helping professional on an average day will spend much of their time talking with other people seeking care and exploring their thoughts and feelings.
Each career page will share some common locations ‘where’ those professionals work.
In what locations do mental health helping professionals function? Many! When one thinks of a “therapist,” the stereotypical setting is probably that of an outpatient counseling clinic of some sort. The image might include a couch, some chairs, a desk, and some bookshelves. That is indeed one potential location for someone to build their career, but it is just one of very many pathways. Helping professionals commonly work in agencies, hospitals, K-12 school systems, businesses, jails/prisons, colleges/universities, military/VA centers, and other places in addition to private practices.
Each career page will describe ‘how’ to pursue the average degree and license needed.
To become a Mental Health Helping Professional in the state of Michigan, there are typically some sort of degree requirements as well as some sort of licensing requirements. In terms of one’s degree, it is usually the case (with only a few exceptions) that in addition to a Bachelor’s degree (e.g., B.A., B.S., B.S.W.), one will need to pursue a graduate degree or medical degree to further specialize their training (e.g., M.A., M.S., M.S.W., M.D., Ed.S., Psy.S., Ph.D., Psy.D.). For most of the common roles in which one could conduct some kind of “therapy,” a master’s degree is the minimum expectation, followed by the earning of an official state-sanctioned license. In Michigan, the Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) organization is the license-granting body to be aware of. You can read all about each specific set of licensing requirements for various careers at that site here:
Each career page discusses meaning and pay associated with ‘why’ to choose that path.
Mental health helping professionals face a great deal of pain and suffering with those they treat. The conversations which occur in therapy can often be extremely heavy, sensitive, complicated, and taxing. So, why would anyone want to do this??? Determining why *you* want to pursue one of these careers is an absolutely crucial task. For most of us in this field, we are drawn in to other people’s stories; we have a fascination with the human psyche; we find it fulfilling to be in contact with a wide diversity of other kinds of of lives; we want to ‘help’ for some reason, often rooted in our own past experiences with needing help; we have an inherent desire to make the world a ‘better place;’ and we find that we are interested in roles which foster deep connection. If those sound like some of your values and interests, then perhaps you are in the right place.
***Be reminded, however, that actually working in a mental health setting is quite a bit different from studying mental health issues by reading a book or taking a class. Before fully diving in, it can be beneficial to seek hands-on experience while you’re still early in the journey. During college or even beforehand, try to seek opportunities to connect with others in ways which stretch your comfort zone.***
Lastly, it is probably worth noting that the initial steps toward many helping professions carry financial risk. That is not to say that one cannot make a comfortable living (psychiatrists do quite well for instance, and numerous other specialties are compensated rather nicely). Rather, it is important to be aware that there will likely be hardships and uncertainties along the way (e.g., investing in your education) and that it will take a long time before you see this pay off. In order to be patient and tolerate the fiscal risk, most people who stay in this field are those who really love it and are inherently driven by the meaningfulness of their work.