The stigma around mental illness has begun to dissipate, meaning that the need for good mental health workers will only grow as more sufferers recognize their symptoms and begin to receive treatment. Mental illness can dramatically impact and shorten lives, and the need for great mental health workers to help create better outcomes has never been greater. If you’re passionate about helping others and interested in a career in the field of mental health, there are several pathways you could take.
Assess your interpersonal skills
Mental health workers require a specific set of skills in order to handle a variety of challenging situations with clients. Before you set foot in a treatment facility or a counselor’s office, take inventory of your interpersonal skills. Basic people skills are crucial for this sort of role, as are patience, empathy and tact. You’ll also need to develop great problem-solving skills and good judgment if you’re going to deliver the best advice and solutions possible for your clients. If your personality isn’t suited to this sort of role, training might not be enough to help you do the job well.
Start with work experience
It’s important to get a grasp of what’s involved in a career as a mental health professional before committing yourself to study. It can be a challenging field, and work experience will help you understand what the job involves and whether you would be well-suited. Work experience might involve volunteering for mental health-focused charities, or shadowing social workers or nurses. This will help you to gain a practical perspective on the role whilst also bolstering your resume with on-the-job learning, and it’s a good opportunity to start developing employability skills – employers look kindly on things like confidentiality and objectivity.
Try a short course
A diploma or certificate in mental health is a great way to start your study if you’re not quite ready to commit to a full degree. The online courses offered generally run for 18 months or less, and will provide you with the knowledge and ability to hit the ground running. Through both online study and practical work experience, you will develop key practical skills which will enable you to provide patients with effective, recovery-oriented support. A course like this also offers potential pathways into further study, in case your dream job requires extra qualifications.
Complete a bachelor’s degree
Once you’ve decided to pursue a career as a mental health support worker, it’s important to think long-term about your career aspirations. If you would like to move into more advanced positions within the mental health sector, it could be worth considering a Bachelor of Nursing or Social Work. These fields are closely related and interconnected to the role of a mental health support worker, and will also provide you with a strong knowledge base which will allow you to provide the best possible care to your patients.
Enroll in post-graduate internships
Like in many other fields of work, graduates with mental health degrees can turn to internship opportunities for a more practical experience to get an edge over their competition. Supervised experience will also allow you to get a real feel for the job in an authentic environment, and in some countries is a required step towards obtaining a job in the industry. These internships typically require several hundred hours of commitment over the course of a few semesters, which should cement everything you studied in your degree.
Complete further study
A career in the area of mental health can be as complex as it is rewarding, and whether you have a specialized interest or are simply interested in propelling your career onward, a master’s degree could be helpful to you. In fact, if becoming a mental health counselor is your end goal, a master’s qualification is an essential step in the process of becoming a licensed professional. Completing a master’s qualification could take anywhere from one to two years in full-time study, but the benefit to your future career growth will make it a worthwhile pursuit.
Even when your study is over, it’s vital to participate in ongoing education in order to stay current with recent medical knowledge and standards relating to mental health care. Opportunities exist to expand your horizons as a mental health professional by completing additional certifications specializing in counseling for couples, families, victims of substance abuse, and school-aged children. There are also other qualifications such as first-aid certificates and blue cards which could come in handy to anyone in a health care role, particularly those working with children.
Throughout all of your training and practical experience as a mental health professional, it’s important to remember to view each client as a whole person and be perceptive. You will likely deal with a wide variety of disorders, ranging from eating disorders and obsessive-compulsive behaviors to post-traumatic stress disorders and psychoses. It will be your job to recognize and advise on a range of potential issues, encompassing emotional, mental, and behavioral challenges, all whilst treating your clients with dignity and respect. A rewarding career is ahead.