Danielle Daniel, LCSW, PsyD student
So you are considering a degree in mental health services?
So you are considering a degree in mental health services? How do you know which degree to pursue when there are so many choices? There are many disciplines, and it is important to find the one that will fit best for what you truly love to do. When choosing any degree you want to be sure it aligns with your authentic self so that you feel connected to what you are doing.
When your heart is so aligned with what you are doing, it makes it worth the time, money, and work it takes to complete a degree and create a fulfilling career.
There are several degrees you can study, most mental health careers require a masters level for hire, however there are a few bachelor positions. Which degree fits most with your authentic self; social work, marriage and family therapist, counselor degrees, or psychology? Since I have done 2 of the degrees and worked closely in a setting for many years with the other degrees, I will give you a good breakdown to help you decide what degree to pursue for yourself which is right for your career path. I also have taken the business path as a mental health clinician and will share with you what I have learned and what the business path can offer you.
I worked for many years in a medical clinic on an inner city high school campus. I ran the mental health program out of this clinic and worked closely with MFT's, MSW's, psychologists, and school counselors. I also have done my master's degree in social work, became a licensed clinical social worker, and am now doing a clinical psychology doctorate degree so I am excited to share with you one viewpoint that may help you in deciding your career path.
Let's first talk about social work degrees, or in other words a Master's of Social Work, MSW degree. This is a 2-year full time master's, or 4-year part time, with the option of licensure after 3000 hours of practical work as a graduated MSW. Social work degrees generally have two different tracks you can take, the clinical or direct practice track for direct services with clients or the macro track which is geared towards administration, policy and grant writing. In the clinical track you have the option to be trained in services for developmental disabilities, homeless services, therapy treatment and diagnosis, hospital or hospice social work, child protective services and many more client-related advocate type services. This degree has the most broad range of possibilities from the training you receive, which is of course why I chose it so I may be a little bias in that I think it is the best.
Marriage and Family Therapist
Marriage and Family Therapy degree is a master's degree with a need for licensure to practice after graduation with around the same requirements as a social work licensure of about 3000 post graduate hours. This degree course is heavily focused and trained in therapy services. Your training is more focused on clinical diagnosis and the various therapy modalities to implement in a therapeutic setting. You have the option to focus on couples therapy, child & adolescent therapy, play therapy, aging therapy services, adult therapy, axis II or personality disorder therapy and of course axis I diagnosis therapy. This is the best degree to choose if you know solely that you want to be a therapist in an office and do talk therapy everyday because you are the most high trained in this area.
Many states offer various counseling degrees that are heavily focused on therapy like the LPCC for example, but I will focus this section on a school counselor degree and how that differs from the other degrees in comparison. School counseling degrees are heavily focused on career and academic counseling as well as immediate intervention counseling training. This degree does not get trained heavily in diagnosis or therapy techniques but they get enough to deal with crisis situations that arise in their office as well as being able to offer minimal services for low-risk clients. They are trained to recognize when a student needs a higher level of care and how to connect them to the appropriate services. School counseling can be fun in the sense you get the school schedule, get to be on a campus and involved with the students activities and education but it can also be tedious with having to work out class schedules frequently and doing non-client related work. Plus with being hired in the school district, there are pros and cons you will want to look into for your specific school district. Here in California, counselors get bumped from schools and aren't able to stay in one place too long at times. But this all depends on your area. This is a good degree for you if academics, career, and minimal therapeutic intervention is what you are looking for as there are lots of pros to being in the school environment.
There are many different types of psychology degree's, including bachelor, master's and of course doctorate degree's. However, you can only be licensed at the doctorate level and the other degrees really serve as a stepping stone to pursuing your doctorate. There are masters level school psychologist who are trained in administering psychological tests for special education and behavior placement, and can offer some degree of therapy to troubled students, but I will say in working with these psychologist at the schools, they spend the majority of their time on paperwork, not client contact. Let me focus on the master's level for a minute and then I will go into a doctorate overview. Master's level psychologist is really a mid-level position in mental health, such as a behavior analyst, professional counselor, psychological assistant and like I said can do school psychology. Doctorate degrees vary from doing research at the PhD level or focused on clinical work at the PsyD level. PsyD's are heavily trained in diagnosis, therapy treatment, neuropsychology, behavior and many other areas of extended focus like sports psychology, business psychology, trauma-intervention etc. So in summary of the psychology degree, the doctorate really allows you a broad range of specialty allowing you to focus on what resonates with your authentic self, but of course it is a lot of years and work.
Salary and Pay
I will not give a total breakdown of salary here, but give you a general sense from California guidelines as each state differs depending on cost of living etc., and being in San Diego California, cost of living is higher so the salary will be higher as well. Masters level counselors, social workers, psychologist and marriage and family therapist make around the same amount depending on how many years you are in the field and whether you are licensed or not. As an MSW, not licensed my salary fluctuated from 48k a year to 58k after raises and time. As a licensed clinical social worker, my pay went up to 72k, which is actually on the high end, normally it would be 60-68k for licensed level masters. For a clinical psychology doctorate, pay ranges anywhere from 75k-120k, depending on clinic, years, and specialty, though some jobs may be even higher. Of course the business path is going to vary and increase overtime, but for me it has been higher than the doctorate level pay is all I will say and I have pursued the business path at the same time as pursuing my education.
A business path can apply to any level of mental health career and definitely offers the most freedoms. I have loved the master of social work degree as it has given me the option and training to work in many environments, including therapy but not being limited to only being trained in therapy. That being said, if you know therapy is your thing, then go for the therapy degree such as the MFT. After working as an MSW and getting licensed as an LCSW, my options opened as well as a good increase in salary with the licensure. But I wanted to study more neuroscience and get a doctorate so I looked into the various degrees and resonated really well with the Clinical Psychology Doctorate, or PsyD because it is still focused on clinical diagnosis and has various specialties that I wanted to focus on, one being trauma intervention and the other business.
After many years in the mental health field, I loved what I did, but having limited income, limited time off, and so much paperwork, I knew I didn't want to live this way until I retired.
So I went down the business path with my expertise, which has allowed me the freedom of my life and finances plus a way to do what authentically resonates with me, and that is offer holistic emotional wellness. I love looking at naturally how to influence brain health and improve emotional wellness so this career path has been the most satisfying and freeing for me.
If you are interested in learning more about following my step-by-step Therapist-Preneur income model, you can schedule a free 30 minute discovery call with me below.
We will explore how the holistic emotional wellness business model could align with your authentic self as well and give you the freedom in your life and finances you truly desire. Whatever career path you choose, education is such a valuable thing to pursue and it will enrich your life in so many ways.