Mental Health Counselor Career Information, Jobs, Degrees & Training Programs

Mental health social workers organize group therapy sessions, participate in crisis interventions, and teach people struggling with social and behavioral problems how to be productive citizens. These specialists also organize support services for people being discharged from correctional and care facilities. Mental health social workers are employed at government agencies, non-profit organizations, mental health facilities, correctional facilities, hospitals, and medical clinics. They often assist patients in their homes.

Social work can be difficult, but most social workers enjoy this profession since they help people change their lives. Because of budget cuts, many agencies are understaffed with social workers. This often means full time social workers must work nights and weekends. Some social workers are on call 24 hours a day to handle emergencies. Many non-profit groups offer part time social worker positions.

Typical mental health social worker duties include clerical, counseling, and evaluation responsibilities. Social workers are encouraged to take care of their health since their jobs can be very stressful. Each state requires mental health social workers to become licensed. To obtain a license, state licensing boards typically require completion of 3,000 hours of clinical work under the supervision of a licensed professional.

Job Outlook and Career Opportunities

During 2006, 122,000 mental health social workers were employed throughout the United States. By 2016, job growth for these specialists is projected to increase by 30 percent. Job opportunities are best at these organizations:
  • Family services agencies
  • Municipal governments
  • Outpatient care facilities
  • Psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals
  • Residential mental retardation and substance abuse facilities
The average salary for these specialists exceeds $39,000 a year.

Education and Training

Entry-level mental health social worker jobs can be obtained with a bachelor's degree, but many organizations prefer hiring people with master's degrees. Those interested in clinical work must hold at least a master's degree. Researchers and professors are typically required to hold PhDs in social work. During 2006, more than 400 bachelor's degree programs were recognized by national accrediting organizations. Likewise, these same organizations recognized more than 180 master's degree and 70 PhD programs nationwide.

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