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Be a Health Behavior Specialist: Career Information and Requirements

Research the requirements to become a health behavior specialist. Learn about the job description and duties, and read the step-by-step process to start a career in mental health care. View article »

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  • 0:01 Health Behavior Specialist
  • 0:43 Career Requirements
  • 1:22 Step 1: Earn a…
  • 1:53 Step 2: Gain an…
  • 2:44 Step 3: Obtain Licensure

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Video Transcript

Should I Become a Health Behavior Specialist?

So, you think you want to become a health behavior specialists. Health behavior specialists work with adults, children, or families and concentrate on the general welfare and psychological wellness of their clients. Professionals who work in health behavior include counselors, social workers, and psychologists.

Many health behavior specialists work full-time, although some psychologists who work out of private practices may set their own schedules and have the option of working fewer than 40 hours per week. Health behavior specialists who are employed by government agencies, such as social workers, may enjoy more job security than other such specialists.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Master's degree
Degree Field Varies; can include psychology, social work, counseling, or similar field
Licensure/Certification States usually require licensure; exams and other mandates vary by profession
Experience Varies; employers typically require related professional experience
Key Skills Patience and compassion; communication, observational, and problem-solving skills
Salary $39,980 (2015 median for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Job listings from employers

What are the career requirements? Employers look for someone with a master's degree. The degree field should be something like psychology, social work, counseling or similar field. Most states require licensing and some have exams and other mandates to follow for licensing. Employers generally look for someone with related professional experience. The key skills you need include patience, compassion, communication, observational and problem-solving skills. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for a substance abuse or behavioral disorder counselor is $39,980.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Although most positions require at least a graduate degree, meeting the educational qualifications for this position begin by earning a bachelor's degree. Master's degree programs in psychology and related fields may accept candidates who have earned bachelor's degrees from a variety of disciplines. Undergraduate courses in psychology, sociology, philosophy and human behavior can be beneficial to students interested in pursuing the educational requirements for health behavior specialists.

Step 2: Gain an Advanced Degree

Some behavior specialists, such as direct-service social workers, may qualify for entry-level positions with a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW). However, many social workers and other health behavior specialists need at least a master's degree. Master's degree programs designed to prepare students to work as mental health professionals focus on related areas, such as clinical training, theories and intervention approaches. A doctoral degree is needed to become a psychologists.

Here is a tip for success: Complete an internship. Students studying to become health behavior specialists are generally required to complete supervised field experiences, such as internships or a practicum. Completing this hands-on training can help students learn more about the field, as well as obtain professional experience.

Step 3: Obtain Licensure or Certification

Health behavior specialists are typically required to obtain licensure. Licensure requirements vary by state and specific profession. Generally, candidates must hold a graduate degree, have a specified amount of professional experience and pass examinations. Some licensing boards for health behavior specialists include the National Board for Certified Counselors and the Association of Social Work Boards. Earning voluntary certification beyond what's required could improve job prospects. For example, a behavior specialist might pursue the Certified Addiction Counselor credential.

Here are some tips for success:

  • Maintain licensure. Health behavior specialists will need to meet renewal requirements, such as participating in continuing education opportunities to keep their licenses current in their respective fields.
  • Complete basic life support training. Based on job postings from October 2012 for health behavior specialists, employers also look for applicants with the BLS certification. Organizations like the American Heart Association offer this certification.

Finally, obtaining a bachelor's degree, earning an advanced degree, and then getting licensed are the steps in the path for a career as a health behavior specialist.

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