How do I become a Therapist?: A Starter Guide to the Field of Mental Health Part One: Introduction
A few months ago, I had a conversation with a friend of mine who was thinking about getting into the mental health field. She didn’t even really know where to start, she just had a passion and wanted to give back to people who had struggled with things that she herself had struggled with. She was interviewing people who worked in the field and asking them questions about what it was like, and what it takes. This isn’t the first conversation like this I have had with someone, and it probably won’t be the last, but it made me think, there are no good guides to the field of mental health, and nobody seems to have a consistent explanation of what it takes. I recently had a similar conversation with my girlfriend about getting into medical school and the various requirements (I am not a doctor but my brother is and I watched what he did), and I was amazed in both conversations by the knowledge that the person I was speaking lacked, that I always just took for granted. What I am aspiring to do with this and the next few articles I will write will be to explain in an easily digestible way what it takes to get into this field (and other helping professions), as well as some of my own experiences working in both clinical and non clinical capacities. Before I really dive in, I want to say that some of this will be data driven, where I will attempt to provide citations, some of this will be based on California where I live and am most familiar, some of this will be very general basic knowledge, and some of this will be personal opinion and experience. I will attempt to say which is which, and acknowledge the biases I have, as well as the advantages I have had getting into this field and what most people should expect.
Before we dive in deep, let’s talk about some basics and define some terms I will use, and what I mean by them, throughout the next few articles. I will put my working definitions in bullets at the end of the article.
What is the field of mental health? In very simple terms, mental health is the field of medicine and healthcare that deals with the behavior and thinking of individuals and groups, and how that impacts their lives. In my mind, it can be broken down into a few sub-field, that I will also define. These are as follows:
Research - This is the portion of the field that is primarily done by scientists of different kinds that studies human behavior and thinking and its impacts and evaluates the effectiveness of various kinds of care throughout the field
Clinical - This is the direct care of patients done by licensed or certified individuals and includes everything from Psychiatrists prescribing medication, to individual and group therapy
Coaching - This is part of mental health as well, but it generally is done by people who do not have a license or certification, though some do go through extensive training, and others are licensed in mental health fields
Education - This is both the training and teaching of potential clinicians, as well as the educating of the general public about mental health issues
Public Health - This is the portion of the field that deals with how these various parts of mental health affect society as a whole, and larger groups, I personally would include much of human resources in this category
There is a huge amount of crossover between many of these different subfields, and it would take forever to even touch on a small amount of them, as well as a large amount of crossover with many related or interlinked fields such as sociology, more traditional medicine, education, even advertising and business and many more.
Now that there is a basic outline of the field of mental health, let’s look at the different types of careers and the kinds of education it takes to even start doing them. To do that we will divide this into a couple of categories:
Certifications - These are jobs that require some sort of regulated certification by a governmental body or agency, some require no degree, others an Associate’s Degree, others a Bachelor’s, and rarely a Master’s or even Doctoral Degree. These are not licensures, allowed to practice under their own license, and they generally need to be overseen by someone with a license of some kind.
Licensures - These are different types of licenses to practice. These include Master’s level clinicians like Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFTs), Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors(LPCCs), Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSWs), and others. Some are state level licensures, others are national level licensures. If the license is state level it can only be used to practice in that state and is limited by a scope of practice by their licensing body. These can also be Doctoral level clinicians, like Licensed Clinical Psychologists, or Physicians (MD or DO). These licenses can also be state or national level and follow the same rules. Generally licensures allow the clinician to practice within their scope of practice without outside supervision, as long as they maintain their license in good standing, and higher level licensures have a greater scope of practice and can supervise lower level licensures.
Researchers - These people are generally educated to at least a Bachelor’s of Science degree, and they usually do not need a license to do research, but they are still bound to ethical standards and review boards. In general, higher degrees attain higher positions in research. These are often done at universities, or in labs, or even out in the field. There are so many different kinds of research that is done at all levels, that it is impossible to describe the requirements in a short paragraph.
Practice Management - This is the non clinical part of doing clinical work. It can be done by people with any degree of education, depending on the requirements of the specific practice. It can range from the administrative assistant answering phones and screening new clients, to the CEO of a large multi clinic practice or treatment center. While clinical experience isn’t necessary for this career, I think it helps immensely to understand what exactly the clinicians are doing in their practices. Generally speaking the higher a person rises in the management of practices, the more education they tend to have.
Educators - This is another highly variable group that can range from the blogger sharing their experience with going to therapy, to the PhD professor, to the motivational speaker, to the spokesman for a large company. Generally speaking it helps to have an education or large amount of personal experience in the subject that you are educating about.
Coaching - This can be done by anyone, as long as they are able to convince people that they are helping them, and can make money do it. When I say this, I don’t mean to disparage coaches, there are some amazing coaches out there, who help a great number of people, but it isn’t a regulated portion of the industry, and as such there is no way to know for sure if the coach has the appropriate background to be providing whatever services they provide. They simply need to be able to generate enough clients of any kind to keep their business going, and they need those clients or potential clients to believe they are getting, or have been, or will be helped.
This isn’t a be all end all list of careers, but a very general outline of the kinds of jobs you may find in the mental health field.
I think this is a good stopping point for the first article, this is a lot of information, and there is so much more to cover. In future articles I will be talking about many of these things in much greater detail.
Mental Health - The field of medicine and healthcare that deals with the behavior and thinking of individuals and groups, and how that impacts their lives
Research - Study of human behavior and thinking, and evaluation of care
Clinical - Direct care done by licensed or certified individuals
Coaching - Non regulated care of individuals or groups that does not require certification or licensure
Education - Training and teaching of clinicians, patients, or the general public
Public Health - How mental health affects populations
Certification - The ability to practice under someone’s license with a certification from an accrediting agency
Licensure - The ability to practice under your own license, without supervision, as long as your license is current and in good standing with the licensing body
Here at Coherence Associates Inc., we are a California Professional Counseling Corporation. We provide clinical mental health services to those in need, as well as help people grow and heal through all of life’s transitions. All of our clinical staff are Licensed in the state of California, and are overseen by Dr. Sara Gilman, LMFT, PsyD, who has been a licensed mariage and family therapist in California for over thirty years. All of our clinical staff are EMDR trained, and trauma informed. If you or anyone else you know is in need of help, please contact us at (760) 942-8663, or via email at email@example.com. If you have further questions about clinical help, feel free to read our many blog articles on our website at www.coherenceassociates.com, or reach out to us. J.D. Larsen Business Development and Practice Manager
Coherence Associates Inc.