The need for mental health workers continues to grow | Local
Editor’s Note: This is part of a series presented by CenClear and The Meadows in partnership with The Courier Express during Mental Health Awareness Month.
There is expected to be a critical shortage of mental health workers by 2025, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration. Those looking for a career may consider entering this field, but may not know what options are available. People who enter the mental health field, such as doctors who help patients with physical illnesses, may specialize in different areas to meet a person’s needs.
Most people who seek mental health services visit, or at least start with, a counselor or therapist. These words are used interchangeably, said Denise Moore, CenClear’s director for mental health and drug and alcohol. Counselor is often used to avoid confusion since “therapist” can be confused with physical therapists or occupational therapists, Moore said.
In outpatient mental health and substance abuse and alcohol treatment programs, the primary responsibility of the therapist is to provide counselling, make assessments, implement treatment based on goals set by the patient and advise him together, and to measure progress, Moore said.
Each program has specific requirements. Different levels of education are required depending on the client’s needs. A therapist can earn a bachelor’s degree, choose to earn a master’s degree, or decide to pursue a license. A person can become a Licensed Professional Counselor, Licensed Social Worker, or Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. To obtain a license, a therapist must participate in an internship and internship alongside schoolwork. They then gain additional direct service experiences under the guidance of on-site supervisors and an academic supervisor. They also pass national exams and complete a minimum number of hours of work supervised by a licensed individual. Licensed therapists may work in a mental health clinic or open their own practice.
A psychologist holds a doctorate in clinical psychology. Typically, a psychologist will do more evaluations and administer diagnostic tests. They can do IQ tests, neurological tests and autism spectrum disorder tests, Moore said. That’s really what sets them apart from an advisor, she says.
A psychiatrist also has a doctorate. In addition to counseling, a psychiatrist is a doctor, Moore said. Just as a doctor may specialize in oncology to treat cancer patients, a mental health worker may specialize in psychiatry to help clients who need medication to address their mental health issues.
The primary role of the psychiatrist is to prescribe medication, Moore said. They also do psychiatric assessments. Psychologists can also make a diagnosis, but only a psychiatrist can prescribe medication.
Everyone who works in the field of mental health is also trained in crisis intervention. In the field of mental health, nurses often step in to help fill the need for workers. A Certified Nurse Practitioner (CRNP) holds a master’s degree in nursing. CRNPs can choose to specialize in psychiatry or another field. They can consult people for a collaborating psychiatrist to make sure the medication is working properly and they can get their medication. Each CRNP is supervised by a psychiatrist.
Registered nurses and licensed practical nurses are also needed in the field of mental health. They monitor patients’ blood pressure and vital signs to provide doctors with the information they need to make sure medications are working properly. They’re also able to answer calls and help patients get their medications refilled, Moore said.
Physician assistants with certification in psychiatry also help fill the need for mental health workers so more people can get help. Without their help, waiting lists would get even longer, Moore said.
The need for mental health workers continues to grow. This is a safe career field for those who choose to pursue it.
CenClear is dedicated to providing early childhood, preschool, mental health, and substance abuse and alcohol services to children, teens, adults, and families. CenClear has offices that provide mental health services in DuBois, Clearfield, Punxsutawney, St. Marys and beyond.