Behavioral and Mental Health Careers
Behavioral and mental health is a broad field with a wide range of career choices. From direct, one-on-one counseling services to clinical or social research to indirect services that impact society, there are many opportunities to engage in a career that provides care to others and uplifts individuals that may be struggling with mental illness and other related stressors. There are multiple ways to explore careers in mental health, but for our purposes, we will break it down into two distinct categories: 1) direct service with individuals, and 2) indirect service that supports individuals, communities, or society at-large.
Direct Service with Individuals
Mental health careers can be found across a variety of employment areas, and there is a wide range of professionals that engage in direct one-on-one work with individuals. Counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers are just the tip of the iceberg. Mental health professionals can be found in schools, hospitals, nonprofits, colleges and universities, private practices, sports teams and clubs, government, and even private businesses. Many mental health professionals hold advanced degrees that provide them with deeper knowledge in brain function and human behavior while also enhancing skills such as empathy, research, and case management. These career paths can help individuals learn about what they’re feeling, why they may be feeling it, and how to cope.
– Adapted from ExploreHealthCareers.org.
You don’t need to work directly with people to help individuals or society overcome mental health challenges or find a more positive state of wellbeing. For example, you might conduct research in a biotechnology, hospital, or university setting, or work on administrative tasks in a nonprofit, or serve in a customer service or business-focused role in a technology company focused on mental health products or services, or research and write policy to inform laws and regulations. There are many more examples of how you can apply your interests to pursue a career that serves to indirectly support behavioral and mental health issues in individuals, communities, and society at-large.
Because there are so many different directions you could go in the behavioral and mental health field, you will want to identify trade magazines, newsletters, and popular websites in your area of interest. Places to start include Behavioral Health News, Science Daily Mental Health News and Medical News Today. Subscribe to blogs and newsletters, follow industry insiders via social media, and research the types of positions that are available in those fields. Organizational websites, O*NET, and the Occupational Outlook Handbook are helpful resources. You must show not only an interest, but also knowledge about the industry.
- To learn more about related careers in this industry, check out “What can you do with a bachelor’s degree in psychology? Like this title, the actual answer is complicated,” Career Paths in Psychology, 50+ Best Jobs for Psychologists (by degree level), 15 Top Psychology Degree Jobs (by pay), Psychology vs. Social Work.
- Psychology has a wide variety of specializations within the clinical and research setting. See the 10 most common counseling specialties and specialties within social work.
- To gain an understanding of the differences between programs in clinical, counseling and social work, read Mitch’s Uncensored Advice for Applying to Graduate School in Clinical Psychology. This guide also shares detailed application tips. To identify a variety of graduate programs by degree level and geographic area, use gradschools.com.
- Firsthand Guides (create a free account with your Georgetown email) have comprehensive information on various careers. Relevant guides include Social Sciences Jobs, Social Services Jobs, Nonprofit Jobs, Child Care Jobs, and Education Jobs.
- The nonprofit sector is a common arena in which to volunteer, intern, and work. Idealist provides numerous opportunities. Find organizations with a mission in the “mental health” issue area.
Attend information sessions, industry events on and off-campus, and connect with popular professional organizations regionally and internationally. The most relevant professional associations in behavioral and mental health include American Psychological Association (APA), American Counseling Association (ACA), and American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA). If you have a specialty of interest, check out this list of more specific professional associations in the mental health field. Professional associations host a variety of professional development, educational, and networking events. If the cost of membership is prohibitive, contact leadership and ask if there are sliding scale prices for students. Volunteering for a conference, educational, or social event is another great way to connect with leaders in the industry.
Develop a LinkedIn profile that communicates your personal and professional brand. For help building your profile, use LinkedIn’s profile checklist (PDF). Joining groups on LinkedIn related to your industry is a great way to meet new people, find mentors, contacts, and ask questions. Also, reach out to alumni through Hoya Gateway and Georgetown’s alumni page on LinkedIn. Our website provides helpful guidelines on networking and informational interviewing.
Making Connections at Georgetown
Georgetown offers a number of opportunities for you to get involved. Joining a school club is an excellent way to learn more about the industry, develop your skills, and get hands-on experience. Some mental health-related clubs include Project Lighthouse, Active Minds, and St. Elizabeth’s Outreach Program. The Center for Social Justice offers a variety of programs, such as DC Reads, the After School Kids Program (ASK), and the DC Schools Project, that uplift individuals and communities around DC. There are also groups that are not specifically focused on mental health, but could provide skills that would aid in a career in mental health down the line. For example, STEMME, a community of women in STEM at Georgetown, offers the chance to engage in a mentorship program. These programs would be a great way to gain more experience working with people and groups. For more student club information, visit Campus Groups.
In addition, increase your research skills by joining a lab around campus. The Center for Research and Fellowships offers the Georgetown Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (GUROP), and the psychology department in particular offers a wide variety of ways to get involved in research, including a research experience based learning course (REBL). There are also many labs that take undergraduate volunteers. Consider exploring research topics through discussion and lectures as the psychology department offers monthly colloquiums.
Getting a job on or off-campus can be another excellent way to build skills valued by employers. There are many offices on Georgetown’s campus that work to positively impact and fully support students. Check out offices such as Health Education Services, the Center for Multicultural Equity and Access (CMEA), or Georgetown Campus Ministry. Some offices even have student-led programs and roles dedicated to supporting other students. For example, the Cawley Career Education Center has a student-led, peer career support program called Wayfinders, and Campus Ministry runs a group retreat program called ESCAPE.
An additional way to gain a deeper understanding and gather information about this career path is to engage in counseling or therapy yourself. Visit with Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) for a one-on-one or group counseling session or John Main Center for Meditation and Interreligious Dialogue for mindfulness and meditation sessions.
To better understand what skills you need to highlight on your resume, check out internships, fellowships, and entry level positions in the behavioral and mental health industry. Your resume should be one page. Use strong action verbs and focus on your skills and accomplishments to show (not just tell) an employer you have the required abilities. Be concise. See our resume section for more tips and advice. Use specific examples to demonstrate your skills and abilities. The purpose of a cover letter is to convince someone to interview you. For more on cover letters, see our cover letter tips.
For listings beyond our campus recruiting platform, Handshake, visit Idealist, Indeed, or do a Google meta search. The nonprofit sector is a common arena in which to volunteer, intern, and work. Identify organizations with a mission in the “mental health” issue area. Additional job boards include Georgetown Psychology Department’s Job Board (they also have a Georgetown students only filter), Psychology Job and Internship opportunities for undergraduates and recent grads, and APA’s Undergraduate Research and Intern Opportunities.