Mental Health Therapist Degrees

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Part
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Mental Health Therapist Degrees

Below is an overview of the following degrees that one can obtain to secure a job in the mental health field, with number of years needed and education requirements included. Please note, licensing for mental health professionals in the United States varies from state to state, so some degrees below may require more or less experience, dependent on the state.

Mental Health Therapist Degrees:
Doctor of Medicine (M.D.)
Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) or Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Master's in Psychology or Psychiatry, with RN license in psychiatric nursing
Master's in Social Work
Master's in Mental Health Counseling
Master's in Family & Marriage Therapy
Master's in Counseling
Bachelor's Degree in related field plus LADC requirements
National Certified Peer Specialist (NCPS)

DEGREE: Doctor of Medicine (M.D.)

PROFESSIONS: Psychiatrist (child/adolescent or adult)
NUMBER OF YEARS FOR DEGREES: 12
(4): Bachelor’s Degree
(4): Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) — Medical School
(4): Psychiatric residency program
PHASES OF DEGREE
A bachelor’s degree is the first step towards becoming a psychiatrist, and includes four years of undergraduate courses, specifically those needed for medical school admission (e.g. biology, math, physics, chemistry). Volunteering and extra-circular activities with local hospitals and clinics is recommended to help one’s chances of getting into medical school.
Medical school is the next phase, and includes classes both in-lab and in lectures, covering topics such as psychology, pharmacology, and medical and ethics laws. This stage is primarily focused on fundamental skills, to prepare for residency, which is largely hands-on learning.
Residency is the final stage, and includes four years of combined learning (practical application and didactic). This includes classes such as chemical dependency and neurology, while also participating in clinics to help treat mental health conditions, including depression, substance abuse, and anxiety. Throughout a residency, students can choose a specialty to focus on, such as child psychology, or choosing a specific condition(s) to narrow in on (e.g. obsessive compulsive disorder).

DEGREE: PsyD (Doctor of Psychology) or PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

PROFESSIONS: Psychologist (child/adolescent or adult)
NUMBER OF YEARS FOR DEGREE: 10 – 15
PHASES OF DEGREE
A bachelor’s degree is the first step towards psychology professions, and includes undergraduate classes and participation in local research and volunteering at clinics to improve the chances of getting accepted into a master’s degree program.
Earning a master’s degree is the next step, where a student can get a “broad introduction to the field of psychology”, while also choosing elective classes based on interests (child psychology, substance abuse, etc.).
A doctoral degree is the final phase of becoming a psychologist, and includes a license in either psychology (PsyD) or philosophy (PhD). The choice depends on whether one wants to practice psychology (PsyD), or participate in research in mental health (PhD). Both programs include clinical and practice work, with hands-on classes and experience working in clinics with patients to treat mental health issues.

DEGREE: Master’s in Psychology/Psychiatry, with an RN license and license in psychiatric nursing (PMHNP-BC)

PROFESSIONS: Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, Psychiatric Nurse, Nurse Psychotherapist
NUMBER OF YEARS FOR DEGREE: 8–12
PHASES OF DEGREE
Bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) is the first phase, and includes four years of undergraduate courses, taking classes that will be needed for a nursing program (e.g. anatomy, chemistry). Taking elective courses in psychology and/or psychiatric medicine is also recommended, to help prepare for a graduate degree in psychiatric nursing after nursing school.
RN Licensure is required, as all states in the United States require a nurse to be licensed before they can begin practicing, and they must pass the NCLEX_RN exam (National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses). Prior to admittance to a master’s program, nurses are encouraged to gain experience practicing nursing, including focusing in on a specialty (e.g. children, mental health, or geriatrics).
A master’s degree focusing on psychiatry is required, and can take anywhere from one-and-a-half to three years to complete. Students will focus on class work, while also doing labs and clinical work with real patients. A Ph.D. is encouraged, but not required for a nurse practitioner.
The last step is obtaining a practitioner certification and license to practice psychiatric nursing. Mental health nurses must obtain a minimum of 75 hours of continuing education every five years to remain certified (certification is the Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practioner Board Certified designation, or PMHNP-BC).

DEGREE: Master’s in Social Work

PROFESSION: Clinical Social Worker/Family Social Worker/School Social Worker/Geriatric Social Worker/Substance Abuse Social Worker
NUMBER OF YEARS FOR DEGREE: 10
PHASES OF DEGREE
A bachelor’s degree is the first step towards becoming a clinical social worker, and includes four years of undergraduate classroom work, focusing on social work and substance abuse classes (if available).
After a bachelor’s degree is obtained, a master’s in social work is required, focusing on classes that you want to specialize in (substance abuse, addition, family, children). Completed hours in social fieldwork is required as well, and varies from state to state (however, the average number of hours in fieldwork needed is around 3,000).

DEGREE: Master’s in Mental Health Counseling

PROFESSION: Mental Health Counselor
NUMBER OF YEARS FOR DEGREE: 7 – 10
PHASES OF DEGREE
The first phase of becoming a mental health counselor is obtaining a bachelor’s degree, which includes four years of undergraduate classes such as psychology, sociology, and education. Students commonly major in psychology, as that helps their chances of getting into a master’s degree program.
Master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling is the next phase, which includes two to three years of both classroom and hands-on learning. There is a focus on learning how to counsel, taking classes such as cross-cultural counseling, theory and process, and foundations of counseling. Further, a focus on mental health is required for the degree.
Lastly, a certification is needed, which the prerequisites include the bachelor and master’s degree, plus “2,000 – 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience”, plus any state-recognized exams and continuing education classes required by the specific state they want to practice in. Some states require additional experience, including an internship.

DEGREE: Master’s in Family Therapy (with licensing, dependent on state of residence)

PROFESSION: Marriage & Family Therapist
NUMBER OF YEARS FOR DEGREE: 5 – 6
PHASES OF DEGREE
An undergraduate degree focusing on psychology, social work, or psychology is required, and includes four years of undergraduate classroom experience.
Once a bachelor’s degree is obtained, a master’s in family therapy, marriage therapy, or counseling is needed, which is a one to two-year program, and includes both hands-on and classroom learning.

From there, students need to complete 2,000 – 4,000 of supervised clinical experience before taking any state-required exams. Further, continuing education classes are required to keep their certification updated and active.

DEGREE: Master’s in Counseling, with state-required licensing and National Counselor Examination (NCE)

PROFESSION: Licensed Professional Counselor
NUMBER OF YEARS FOR DEGREE: 4 – 6
PHASES OF DEGREE
A bachelor’s degree in a related field of study (psychology, counseling, social work) is required, which includes four years of undergraduate classroom work.
A master’s degree is the nest steps towards becoming a licensed counselor, which includes classroom and hands-on experience with mental health patients and human behavior learning. Further, at least 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience is required after a master’s degree has been obtained, and must be performed within two years of the acquirement of the master’s degree. Continuing education and classes is required after receiving state license (license depends on the state).

DEGREE: Bachelor’s Degree in related field, plus LADC acquirement (Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor)

PROFESSION: Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor
NUMBER OF YEARS FOR DEGREE: 4
PHASES OF DEGREE
In some cases, a LADC may be acquired with an associate’s degree (two years) however in most states, a bachelor’s degree in a related counseling field (psychology, social work) is required, which includes four years of undergraduate classroom work.
After education requirements are completed, 880 hours of clinical work in drug and alcohol counseling is required.
Please note, requirements for earning a LADC varies in each state in the United States.

DEGREE: MHA National Certified Peer Specialist (NCPS)

PROFESSION: Peer Specialist
NUMBER OF YEARS FOR DEGREE: ~1 year
PHASES OF DEGREE
Phases of the degree vary by state license requirements, however formal education classes are required, and are available to view once an applicant has created an online account in the MHA NCP system.

DEGREE: Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling or Marriage & Family Therapy

PROFESSION: Pastoral Counselor
NUMBER OF YEARS FOR DEGREE: 6 – 8
PHASES OF DEGREE
A bachelor’s degree in a related field is required, including social science, psychology, or behavioral studies. This includes four years of undergraduate classroom work.
After a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree is needed, focusing on mental health counseling. While not required, it is encouraged, and many pastoral counselors are priests, rabbis, or ministers, with a bachelor’s degree and license.
Exams required to pass include the NCE (National Counselor Examination), or the NCMHCE (National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination), as well as any state-required exams.

SUMMARY

There are numerous degrees available for those interested in a mental health profession, which include an M.D., Ph.D., Psy.D., Master's in Psychology, Psychitary, Psychiatric Nursing, Social Work, Family & Marriage Therapy, Mental Health Counseling, and Counseling. Further, various certifications are available, including a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor (LADC), and a National Certified Peer Specialist (NCPS). Please note, licensing for mental health professions varies by state within the United States, and some states may require further certifications that what is listed in this write-up.
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Treatment Approaches/Modalities to Mental Health Therapy

INTRODUCTION

In treating mental health illnesses and disorders, psychotherapists often provide services surrounding five key treatment methods, which are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Interpersonal Therapy (IPT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and Psychodynamic Therapy. These therapeutic modalities frequently address mental health challenges such as depression, eating disorders, anxiety and stress; and are important in helping patients to embrace positive thinking and behavior.

METHODOLOGY

While researching mental health treatment methods, we found that several sources similarly acknowledged five common modalities to psychoanalysis which include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and Psychodynamic Therapy. We found one particular source that recognizes Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDRT) as another form of mental health treatment, but it was not commonly conceded amongst other sources. One other source mentions DBT and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) as forms of therapy under CBT, for which we found that REBT is comparable to CBT treatment. Another important aspect of our research consisted of defining psychoanalysis, which we determined is a term used interchangeably with mental/psychotherapy.

COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL MODALITIES TO PSYCHOANALYSIS

There are several commonly used modalities that are essential to mental health therapy or psychoanalysis. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one method known as a group of therapies, which include Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), Cognitive Therapy, and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). Together CBT treatment methods help mental health patients envision the connection between thoughts, emotions and behaviors. With this, patients can build a sense of awareness that their thoughts are influential in their responses to certain situations. Some commonly used techniques of CBT are journaling, mindfulness, challenging beliefs, and relaxation. Certainly, these techniques are useful in helping patients to build healthy thoughts that will allow them to embrace more positive feelings, and therefore engage in more positive behaviors.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is an important modality of CBT cluster therapies, as it assists psychotherapists with treating high-risk patients who are struggling to cope with stress. DBT is used to bridge the gap between acceptance and change concerning therapeutic dimensions, by identifying unhealthy behavioral patterns, and providing communicative outlets to help address negative behaviors. DBT techniques may consist of restructuring patients' priorities, participating in recreational activities, and journaling as important ways to cope with stress. Surely, DBT has been proven to improve emotional regulation and assists patients with refining their relationship with others.

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), developed by Albert Ellis in 1955, is synonymous with CBT for which it supports the theory that thoughts have an impact on emotions and behavior. REBT is essentially a method that builds healthier core beliefs, thereby reducing psychological distress.

ADDITIONAL MODALITIES TO PSYCHOANALYSIS

Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and Psychodynamic Therapy are also common mental health treatments. IPT was developed in the 1970s by Gerald Klerman and Myrna Weissman to aid patients in maintaining healthy relationships. Originally used to treat depression, IPT is significant in addressing emotional issues directly or indirectly caused by negative relationships, which can also be a result of anxiety, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues. Areas of focus for this treatment method may consist of interpersonal shortcomings, life-stage transitions, relational conflict and grief.

Psychotherapists use Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) to recognize ways in which patients create challenging situations through the suppression of emotions, which is frequently evident through substance abuse, anxiety, eating disorders, etc. Here, ACT is an approach that helps patients manage psychological pain as an inevitable human experience.

Lastly, Psychodynamic Therapy is a treatment method that addresses psychological processes to diminish symptoms of distress. Psychotherapists rely on this approach to gain a deeper perspective of patients' early-life experiences and beliefs, relative to their current problems. With this, music therapy is a major technique used for Psychodynamic Therapy treatment, for which patients use instruments to create music and boost their sense of creativity.

CONCLUSION

As more patients seek the help of psychotherapy to help them manage mental health disorders, psychotherapists commonly find that treatment methods such as Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Interpersonal Psychotherapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and Psychodynamic Therapy are all effective in improving the lives of their patients. These treatment methods are dynamic in helping patients to adopt healthier thinking and behavioral patterns that promote better relationships with themselves and others.


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