Mental Health Specialist: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a mental health specialist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and training to find out if this is the career for you.

Mental health specialists can be employed at a variety of healthcare facilities to assist patients who have mental illnesses or other problems that might be aided by professional treatment. The educational requirements for this position may vary, but a bachelor's degree with some experience is typically acceptable for entry-level positions.

Essential Information

Mental health specialists often have both counseling and social work skills. They work with individuals who have mental illnesses or substance abuse problems and consult with other mental health professionals to provide effective courses of treatment. Many employers require a bachelor's degree in psychology or a similar field coupled with experience, while others seek candidates with a master's degree in social work, counseling, psychology or a related subject.

Required Education Varies by employer; some require a bachelor's degree in psychology or a related field plus experience with mental health patients, while others require a master's degree in social work, psychology, counseling or a related area
Other Requirements Additional training required if employed by the Army; knowledge of medical terminology, CPR and first aid skills and a background check are common prerequisites
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 20% increase for mental health counselors
Median Salary (2015)* $41,880 for mental health counselors

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Mental Health Specialist Job Description

Mental health specialists are employed in a variety of settings, including rehabilitation centers, hospitals, clinics, correctional facilities, nursing homes and with the U.S. Army. Mental health specialists work under the supervision of a licensed mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker or psychiatric nurse, and assist in providing mental health care to patients. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment of mental health counselors to increase by 20% from 2014 to 2024. The median annual salary for these specialists was $41,880 as of May 2015, according to the BLS.

Mental Health Specialist Job Duties

Mental health specialists are often responsible for providing counseling and casework services to patients. Responsibilities may include assessing patients' mental status through interviews or observations and then developing treatment plans or making referrals to the appropriate services. They may also be required to provide crisis intervention services to patients who are a danger to themselves or others. Mental health specialists monitor a patient's treatment progress and keep track of his or her mental status. Written records must be kept of all patient interactions.

Mental Health Specialist Requirements

Most positions require that mental health specialists have at least a bachelor's degree in psychology or a related area, plus experience working with mental health patients. In some cases, a master's degree in psychology, counseling, social work or a related area can make up for work experience. Mental health specialists who are employed by the Army undergo nine weeks of Basic Training, followed by 20 weeks of Advanced Individual Training. Trainees are instructed in patient care and emergency medicine in addition to basic soldiering skills.

In addition, mental health specialists should have good communication skills, both oral and written. Many employers require knowledge of CPR and first aid, as well as medical and psychological terminology. A valid driver's license and a criminal background check are often prerequisites to employment in this line of work. Mental health specialists should also be trustworthy since they must adhere to patient confidentiality standards.

Those interested in becoming mental health specialists need at least a bachelor's degree and experience in the field to get started, but they might consider pursuing a master's degree for increased job opportunities. Psychology, counseling and social work are typical fields of study for mental health specialists. These professionals often have both counseling and social work duties and might find employment in a variety of industries, including the Army, nursing homes, clinics and more.

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