Masters Level Careers in Mental Health

One of the most important points we want to convey is that you should not feel like you need to go into one of the ‘standard’ career paths in psychology such as becoming a mental health provider or psychology professor; in reality a minority of psychology majors select these paths. However, the rest of this page is designed for those who do want to pursue career paths more closely tied to psychology and in particular doing some sort of counseling, therapy, or social work.

What to watch out for

For any career you want to pursue, it is very important that you do your homework to learn about the field and how to get into the field. It would be a tragedy to pay a lot of money to a masters program only to find out later that it does not actually provide you with the education that is necessary to pursue your path. In the broader scope of psychology-adjacent fields, there are some degrees or programs that allow you to pursue therapeutic work, and others that do not, so it is very important to do your homework. You should focus on 4 things:

      Is the program accredited? Accredited programs have some oversight at the national level through a nonprofit organization, providing some assurance of quality. You can search online to find the relevant accrediting agency.

      Does the program give you what you need for certification and licensure? Certification means that you pass a set of requirements and often a test from a national organization. Licensure is the legal right to practice in your state.

      The focus of the program. Read about the program carefully and what degrees you will get and whether the degree advances you towards your desired career. For example, some programs provide you what is needed to go on to obtain certification and licensure. However, others are more academic and do not. Also try to find information about outcomes - what percent of alumni get jobs after graduation.

      Online degrees and for-profit institutions. Be especially careful about programs that are online only or are offered by for-profit organizations as opposed to non-profit universities. There may well be totally reputable programs that are entirely online or are from for-profit organizations. However, you need to be very careful. Quality of course matters to your education, and reputation of your program can matter as well for obtaining jobs.

      Cost.  Many graduate programs provide tuition remission and perhaps a stipend, whereas others will charge tuition and provide no stipend. Be sure to consider carefully the eventual cost of any student loans you might incur versus the likelihood and salary level of your post-degree position. 

Some concrete careers trajectories

Here we focus on careers in mental health and psychology that require some additional training, usually a master’s degree. We are focusing on these because these careers are in fairly high demand and have clear routes into the profession. Here are topics we don’t discuss further:

      Bachelors-level careers. Here we don’t go into careers that you can go into right after college. There are many settings that provide mental healthcare especially in group settings (e.g., hospitals, intensive outpatient services, sometimes substance abuse centers) that have roles for workers with a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field. You can find such jobs on online job websites.

      Specialized PhD-level applied careers. There are some highly specialized careers that require a PhD such as forensic psychology, rehab psychology, clinical psychology, etc. See the section below on PhDs. See also other specialized fields in the list of 54 APA Divisions and the list of recognized specialties in professional psychology)

      Careers with Less Clear Routes. Lastly, we also don’t go into careers that are somewhat more obscure or don’t have a defined route of entry. For example, sports psychology is a career that many people are interested in. However, this is a highly specialized area (there aren’t that many practicing sports psychologists), and there are multiple routes into sports psychology. For more information see the APA Division 47,  ABSP, and AASP.

School Psychology

School psychologists “apply expertise in mental health, learning, and behavior, to help children and youth succeed academically, socially, behaviorally, and emotionally.”

      Title: Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP)

      Main Professional Organization: NASP

      Accredited Programs: NASP - Accredited Programs

      Certification: NASP - Certification

      Additional Info:

      Degree Types

      LearnHowToBecome

      MyNextMove

Clinical Social Work

Clinical social workers “provide one-on-one psychotherapy or deliver advanced clinical services” in a variety of settings.

      Title: Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). Note, there are other areas of social work too.

      Main Professional Organization: NASW

      Accredited Programs: CSWE

      Certification: ASWB, NASW Credentials

      Additional Info:

      LearnHowToBecome

      BLS

      MyNextMove - Mental Health & Substance Abuse Social Workers

      MyNextMove - School Social Workers

      MyNextMove - Healthcare Social Workers

Marriage and Family Therapy

Marriage and family therapists are “mental health professionals trained in psychotherapy and family systems, and licensed to diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders within the context of marriage, couples and family systems.”

      Title: Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT)

      Main Professional Organization: AAMFT

      Accredited Programs: COAMFTE

      Certification: State Licensing Boards

      Additional Info:

      FAQs

      BLS

      ONET

      LearnHowToBecome

Counseling

Counselors are “mental health service providers, trained to work with individuals, families, and groups in treating mental, behavioral, and emotional problems and disorders.”

      Title: Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and related titles like LMHC, LCPC, LPCC, LCMHC, also Certified Rehabilitation Counselor CRC

      Main Professional Organization: ACA

      Accredited Programs: CACREP

      Certification: State Licensing Boards

      Additional Info:

      Guide for Students

      LearnHowToBecome - School Counselor

      LearnHowToBecome - Substance Abuse Counselor

      BLS - School Counselor

      BLS - Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselor

      BLS - Rehabilitation Counselors

      MyNextMove - Educational, Guidance, and Career Counselors and Advisors

      MyNextMove - Mental Health Counselor

      MyNextMove - Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselor

      MyNextMove - Rehabilitation Counselors

Applied Behavioral Analysis

Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) “is best known for its success in treating individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities (e.g., Down syndrome, intellectual disabilities).”

      Title: Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA)

      Main Professional Organization: ABAI

      Accredited Programs: ABAI - Accredited Programs

      Certification: State Licensing Boards

      Additional Info:

      Student FAQs

Industrial and Organizational Psychology

I-O Psychology “tries to understand and measure human behavior to improve employees' satisfaction in their work, employers' ability to select and promote the best people, and to generally make the workplace better for people who work there.”

      Main Professional Organization: SIOP

      Additional Info:

      Pursuing a Career in I-O Psychology

      Is I-O Psychology Right for You?

      Bureau of Labor Statistics - I-O Psychology

      MyNextMove - I-O Psychology

Human Factors and Ergonomics

Human Factors is concerned with the application of what we know about people, their abilities, characteristics, and limitations to the design of equipment they use, environments in which they function, and jobs they perform.

      Main Professional Organization: HFES

      Additional Info:

      Bureau of Labor Statistics - Human Factors

      MyNextMove - Human Factors