5 Actionable Tips For Students Considering A Career In Mental Health

April 26, 2023
12 mins read
5 Actionable Tips For Students Considering A Career In Mental Health
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Last Updated on April 27, 2023 by Randy Withers, LCMHC

The world needs mental health professionals. If you’re a student researching mental health career paths, this article will be a great resource for you. 

A career in mental health offers the chance to positively impact lives. It’s also a career that requires a ton of education, professional development, frontline experience, and the ability to manage stress. Even for seasoned clinicians, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

Fear not – I am here to help.

As a mental health professional with over a decade of experience in the field, I know now what I didn’t know then, and if my experiences make things easier for you, so much the better.

Let’s dive in, shall we? 

5 Actionable Tips For Students Considering A Career In Mental Health
5 Actionable Tips For Students Considering A Career In Mental Health

Why Choose a Career in Mental Health?

A career in mental health is more than just a job; it’s a calling that brings fulfillment, growth, and the opportunity to make a positive impact on people’s lives. If you’re considering a career in mental health, here are some reasons to help you make up your mind:

High demand and growing: 

  • Mental health awareness is on the rise, leading to a growing need for skilled professionals. With more people seeking support, there are plenty of job opportunities for those with the right skills.

Many paths to choose from: 

  • Whether you have a natural talent for listening or analyzing behavior, there’s a mental health career that’s perfect for you. Counseling, psychology, psychiatry, social work – there are several options to consider.

Continuous growth and development: 

  • The mental health field is dynamic, with ever-changing research, techniques, and tools. Professional development is a core tenet in this profession.

Make a positive impact: 

  • As a mental health professional, you’ll have the power to change lives. By helping people navigate tough times, overcome challenges, and build resilience, you’ll be contributing to a happier, healthier society.

Job satisfaction: 

  • While a career in mental health can be challenging, the reward of knowing you’ve made a positive impact in someone’s life is unparalleled.

A career in mental health can be tough, but it’s also rewarding. There’s nothing like knowing you’ve made a positive impact in someone’s life.

Heads Up: A Few Sobering Facts You Should Consider

While a career in mental health is quite rewarding, you need to know what you’re getting yourself into. I can’t cover every possible problem you’re likely to encounter, but consider the ramifications of the following information:

  1. High levels of burnout: Mental health professionals, like therapists and counselors, experience high levels of burnout. A survey of mental health professionals found that over 50% reported feeling emotionally drained, and almost 40% reported feeling emotionally exhausted (source).
  2. High suicide rates: Mental health professionals are at increased risk for suicide due to factors such as chronic stress and vicarious trauma. A study found that mental health professionals have a suicide rate that is almost 4 times higher than that of the general population (source).
  3. High rates of job dissatisfaction: Despite the rewarding nature of mental health careers, many professionals report job dissatisfaction due to factors such as low pay, long hours, and a lack of work-life balance (source).
  4. Mental health workforce shortages: The demand for mental health services continues to grow, yet there is a shortage of mental health professionals to meet this demand. This is particularly true in rural areas and among underserved populations (source).
  5. High levels of student debt: Many mental health professionals, such as psychologists and psychiatrists, require advanced degrees that come with a high price tag. This can lead to high levels of student debt, which can be a significant burden (source).

If you are still with me, we’ll move on, but consider yourself warned.

5 Mental Health Career Tips (From A Therapist)

These tips are aimed primarily at high school and college students who haven’t worked in the field but have an active interest in doing so. There’s tons of stuff to learn, and in the beginning, it’s hard enough remembering what all the acronyms mean, let alone knowing what path, setting, or degree path is right for you.

So with that in mind, these are 5 things i think you should know:

Tip 1: Understand the Different Mental Health Professionals

If you’re considering a career in mental health, it’s crucial to familiarize yourself with the various professionals who work in the field. Each has a unique set of responsibilities, educational requirements, and opportunities. Here are six career paths to consider:


  • These medical doctors specialize in mental health, providing diagnoses and treatment for a range of mental health disorders. They can prescribe medication, offer individual therapy, and manage complex cases that require multiple forms of treatment.


  • Focused on understanding human behavior and thought processes, psychologists often hold a Ph.D. or Psy.D. degree. They provide therapy, conduct psychological assessments, and create treatment plans for clients with mental health challenges.

Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSWs)

  • With a master’s degree in social work, LCSWs provide therapy and counseling services to individuals, families, and communities, helping them navigate emotional, behavioral, and social issues.

Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs)

  • These specialists focus on relationships and family dynamics. Holding a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy, they help clients resolve conflicts, communication issues, and other family-related challenges.

Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs)

  • With a master’s degree in counseling or a related field, LPCs offer counseling services for individuals, groups, and families dealing with various mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression, and stress.

Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors

  • These professionals help clients overcome addiction and behavioral disorders. They provide counseling services to support clients on their road to recovery.

Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (MHNP):

  • Registered nurses with advanced education and training in mental health care. They can assess, diagnose, and treat mental health disorders, and often collaborate with psychiatrists and other mental health professionals to provide comprehensive care to their patients.

Tip 2: Understand Educational Requirements for Mental Health Professions

When considering a career in mental health, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with the educational requirements for your desired profession. These requirements can vary widely, from undergraduate degrees to doctoral programs, depending on the career path you choose. To help you understand the educational expectations for different professions, we’ve outlined the requirements for some common mental health careers below.


To become a psychiatrist, you’ll need to complete a medical degree (MD or DO), followed by a four-year residency in psychiatry. This path requires extensive training and a deep understanding of both medicine and mental health. To learn more, visit the American Psychiatric Association.


Most psychologists need to earn either a Ph.D. or Psy.D. in psychology. This typically involves completing a doctoral program and conducting original research or gaining practical experience in the field. To learn more, visit the American Psychological Association.

Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSWs)

LCSWs require a master’s degree in social work (MSW), supervised clinical experience, and licensure. To learn more, visit the National Association of Social Workers.

Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs): 

MFTs need a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy or a related field, supervised clinical experience, and licensure. To learn more, visit the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.

Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs): 

LPCs require a master’s degree in counseling or a related field, supervised clinical experience, and licensure. To learn more, visit the American Counseling Association.

Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors

Requirements vary, but most positions require at least a bachelor’s degree in a related field. Some roles may require a master’s degree and licensure. To learn more, visit the National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors.

Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (MHNP)

MHNP requires a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), passing the NCLEX-RN exam, and completing a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program with a focus on mental health. To learn more, visit the American Psychiatric Nurses Association.

Over the past 20 years, more and more professionals have looked to online educational platforms to pursue their careers. For example, an online master programs for clinical mental health counselors may make it easier to advance your education without taking time off work. Take the time to explore your options.

Tip 3: Find a Great Internship and Make the Most Out of It

One of the most valuable mental health career tips is to secure an excellent internship and make the most of your experience there. Internships provide hands-on experience, allowing you to gain practical skills and insights while working alongside professionals in your chosen field.

Here are some tips for finding the right internship and making the most of it:

Identify your goals

  • Before starting your search, define your objectives for the internship. Consider factors such as your career path, the setting, and the type of population you’d like to work with.

Research potential internships

  • Search online, attend career fairs, and consult with your academic advisor to explore available internship opportunities. Focus on those that align with your goals and interests.

Prepare a strong application: 

  • Tailor your resume and cover letter to emphasize relevant skills, experiences, and educational background. Highlight your passion for mental health and how the internship aligns with your goals.


  • Connect with professionals, classmates, and alumni in the mental health field to learn about their internship experiences and seek recommendations.

Be proactive during your internship

  • Take the initiative to learn from your supervisors and colleagues, ask questions, and volunteer for additional tasks when possible. Demonstrate enthusiasm and commitment.

Build relationships: 

  • Establish strong connections with your supervisors and fellow interns. These relationships can lead to valuable mentorships, references, and job opportunities in the future.

Reflect on your experience

  • Regularly assess your progress and growth during the internship. Identify areas where you excel and those that need improvement, and seek guidance from your supervisors to enhance your skills.

Tip 4: Develop Essential Therapeutic Skills

To flourish as a mental health professional, it’s important to hone some essential skills that will help you connect with clients and make a positive impact on their lives. Let’s dive into a sampling of skills that can set you up for success in your mental health career:

Active Listening

  • Being an attentive listener is crucial when working with clients. By carefully paying attention to their words, tone, and body language, you can better understand their emotions, needs, and concerns. Active listening also involves asking open-ended questions and paraphrasing to ensure you’ve fully grasped the client’s perspective.


  • Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand their feelings and experiences. As a mental health professional, being empathetic helps you build trust with your clients and creates a safe, supportive environment for them to open up about their struggles.

Effective Communication

  • Clear and concise communication is key in mental health careers. This includes both verbal and nonverbal communication, such as using appropriate body language, maintaining eye contact, and speaking in a way that’s easy for clients to understand. It also involves explaining complex concepts and treatment plans in simple, relatable terms.

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

  • Mental health professionals often need to analyze situations and make decisions based on incomplete or conflicting information. Being able to think critically and creatively to solve problems will help you navigate the complexities of your clients’ lives and provide the best possible care.

Cultural Competence

  • To effectively serve a diverse clientele, it’s essential to be sensitive to cultural differences and understand how they can impact mental health experiences. Cultural competence means being aware of your own biases, respecting diverse perspectives, and adapting your approach as needed.

Establishing Healthy Boundaries:

  • It’s important to set clear boundaries with clients to maintain a professional relationship and protect your own well-being. This can include defining the scope of your work, setting expectations for communication, and knowing when to refer a client to another professional.

By developing these skills, you’ll not only be better equipped to support your clients, but also foster your own well-being and job satisfaction.

Tip 5: Explore Various Workplace Settings for Mental Health Professionals

When it comes to a career in mental health, it’s important to remember that one size doesn’t fit all. Different workplace settings might suit you better based on your interests and goals. To find the perfect fit, let’s look at the various workplace settings available to mental health professionals:

Private Practice

  • Many mental health professionals choose to open their own practice or join an existing one, offering personalized services to clients in a one-on-one setting.


  • Working in a hospital can be fast-paced and challenging. You’ll collaborate with a multidisciplinary team to provide care for patients with acute mental health needs.

Community Mental Health Centers

  • These centers focus on providing accessible mental health care to the community, often serving low-income or uninsured individuals.

Schools and Universities

  • Mental health professionals can work in educational settings, offering counseling and support to students and staff.

Government Agencies

  • Opportunities exist within local, state, and federal government agencies to develop mental health policies and programs that serve the population.

Nonprofit Organizations

  • Many nonprofits focus on mental health advocacy, research, and support services, providing a chance to make a broader impact in the field.

Residential Treatment Facilities

  • These facilities cater to individuals with severe mental health disorders, addiction, or dual diagnosis, requiring long-term, intensive care.

Find an environment that aligns with your career objectives and allows you to thrive..

Bonus Tip: Get Good at Taking Care of Yourself

As mental health professionals, it’s crucial that we walk the talk about self-care. After all, we can’t pour from an empty cup. Prioritizing our mental well-being isn’t just a nice-to-have – it’s an ethical mandate, ensuring we’re at our best to support our clients.

So, how do we make self-care a priority? Start by carving out time for mindfulness practices, like meditation or yoga. They help us stay present and focused. Don’t forget to get moving, too – regular exercise is a fantastic way to blow off steam and keep stress in check.

A good night’s sleep works wonders for our mental health, so let’s make sure we’re catching those Z’s. And remember, there’s no shame in seeking therapy ourselves. It’s important to have a safe space to unpack our emotions and grow from them.

Boundaries are essential. We need to set limits with clients, colleagues, and even our loved ones, making sure we have the time and energy to recharge. Speaking of support, let’s lean on friends, family, and fellow professionals who “get it” and can offer a listening ear.

Finally, let’s not forget to have some fun! Carve out time for hobbies and activities that bring us joy, whether painting, hiking, or simply curling up with a good book.

By embracing self-care as a non-negotiable part of our mental health career journey, we’re well on our way to making a positive and lasting impact on the lives of our clients.

Final Thoughts

Still want a career in mental health? Good for you! It’s fulfilling, but remember, it demands passion, dedication, and ongoing learning.

Hands-on experience is critical. Internships or volunteering can help sharpen your skills and reveal the real-world ups and downs of mental health work. Plus, building a strong network of mentors and peers is priceless – they’ll support and guide you as you navigate your career.

Don’t forget self-care! It’s essential to maintain your own mental well-being while helping others. After all, you can’t pour from an empty cup, so make your health and happiness a priority.

And remember, a mental health career means continuous learning. Stay updated with the latest in the field, attend courses, and seek peer feedback to grow and excel in your profession.

By following these mental health career tips and striking a balance, you’ll confidently step into a career in mental health, ready to face challenges and joys, knowing you’re making a real difference in people’s lives.

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What are some common misconceptions about working in the mental health field?

There are several common misconceptions about working in the mental health field. One is that it only involves talking to people, when in reality, there are many other aspects, such as assessment, treatment planning, and documentation. Another misconception is that mental health professionals can “fix” their clients’ problems. While they can certainly provide support and guidance, it is ultimately up to the individual to make changes and take responsibility for their own well-being.

What are some resources for students interested in learning more about careers in mental health?

Students interested in learning more about careers in mental health can find resources from various organizations. The National Institute of Mental Health provides information on mental health careers, while professional organizations like the American Psychological Association and the National Alliance on Mental Illness offer resources for students.

Mentoring programs, internships, and volunteer opportunities can provide valuable experience and networking opportunities. Additionally, conducting informational interviews with professionals in the field can give insight into different career paths. These resources can help students better understand the many career options available in mental health.

How can networking and internships be helpful in starting a career in mental health?

Networking and internships can be invaluable in starting a career in mental health. Networking can connect you with professionals in the field, allowing you to learn from their experiences. Internships provide hands-on experience, allowing you to apply what you’ve learned in a real-world setting.

Through networking and internships, you can build relationships with potential employers and colleagues. These opportunities can also help you better understand the different career paths available in mental health. Networking and internships are valuable tools for launching a successful career in mental health.

How can students gain experience and knowledge in the mental health field before entering the workforce?

Students can gain experience and knowledge in the mental health field before entering the workforce. Volunteering at mental health clinics or organizations can provide hands-on experience, while participating in research studies or internships can offer valuable knowledge. Joining relevant clubs or organizations on campus can also provide networking opportunities and access to resources. 

Additionally, attending conferences, workshops, or seminars related to mental health can offer the chance to learn from professionals already in the field. All these options can help students build a strong foundation for their future careers in the mental health field.


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Randy Withers, LCMHC

Randy Withers, LCMHC is a Board-Certified and Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor at Practical Counseling and Wellness Solutions, LLC in North Carolina. He has masters degrees in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Lenoir-Rhyne University and Education from Florida State University, and is the managing editor of Blunt Therapy. He writes about mental health, therapy, and addictions. In his spare time, you can find him watching reruns of Star Trek: TNG with his dog. Connect with him on LinkedIn. If you are a NC resident looking for a new therapist, you can book an appointment with him.

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Randy Withers, LCMHC

Reviewed for accuracy by Randy Withers, MA, NCC, LCMHC, LCAS. Licensed Therapist and Managing Editor of Blunt Therapy

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