The need for mental health care services in the United States is increasing, and so is the diversity of settings that need behavioral health providers. Hospitals, K-12 schools, universities, primary care offices, substance use recovery programs, veteran and disabled communities, nursing facilities and more all have a need for behavioral health providers who can meet the needs of the populations that they serve.

Poor mental health and substance abuse can make it more difficult for patients to attend to other aspects of their health, maintain healthy social connections and stay employed, all of which are major determinants of health. Mental health and substance use disorders are heavily stigmatized in many communities, further discouraging patients from seeking help or learning more about these disorders. Behavioral health workers play a pivotal role in the communities they serve by providing behavioral health education and treatment to patients and their families.

A 2014 report from the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD) called out workforce shortages in bilingual behavioral health workers, licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) and marriage and family therapists (MFTs/LMFTs). There is a particular need for mental health services in low-income urban and rural areas populated by immigrant and minority groups. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that mental health counselor and marriage and family therapist employment positions are estimated to grow 19%, social workers 12% and substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors 22% between 2014 and 2024, making these fast-growing areas of opportunity.

Areas of need in behavioral health providers also include child and adolescent psychiatry. The shortage of behavioral health specialists for youth is extreme: the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reported that there is 1 psychiatrist for every 1800 children in need of treatment (

You don’t need to be a physician or psychologist to work in mental health. There are numerous other exciting careers in mental health to choose from that will allow you to serve communities in need. Just check out the list below.

  • Physicians Assistant (Psychiatry, neurology, palliative care, etc.)
  • Nurse (Psychiatry, neurology, palliative care, etc.)
  • Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT)
  • Marriage Family and Child Counselor (MFCC)
  • Clinical Social Worker (LCSWs)
  • Clinical Counselor (LPCC)
  • Medical Social Worker
  • Psychiatric Social Worker
  • Alcohol and Substance Abuse Managers/Counselors
  • Case Managers
  • Behavioral Health Educator
  • Rehabilitation Counselor
  • Psychometrist
  • Peer Specialist/Peer Support Worker
  • Pastoral Counselor
  • Designated consumer and family member positions
  • School Counselor
  • Art Therapist/Dramatherapist
  • Clinical research coordinator/assistant clinical research coordinator
  • Administrative assistant/other administrative positions

Peer counseling, administrative work, research coordinator positions and case management positions will often accept applicants who only hold a bachelor’s degree.

Almost all of these positions that require additional training and advanced degrees or certification qualify for educational loan forgiveness or loan repayment programs from state, federal and other institutions (more on this in a later blog post!).

For more information on these and other mental health careers, see the resources below:

Explore Careers in Mental Health

Mental Health Workforce Needs

Mental Health Shortage Areas in California

Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook


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