Mental Health Specialist Job Description

Mental health specialists play a counseling role as professionals who help patients cope with mental illnesses. They apply counseling skills to assist those with depression, anxiety, ADHD, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other illnesses. They also counsel individuals abusing alcohol or drugs. Mental health specialists work in rehabilitation centers, mental health clinics, hospitals, outpatient facilities, and correctional centers. These professionals typically work full time, though long hours can be normal in some situations, such as those requiring crisis intervention. Most mental health specialists enjoy medical benefits and paid time off. The majority of these specialists report high job satisfaction. ‘

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Mental Health Specialist Duties and Responsibilities

While a mental health specialist’s day-to-day duties and responsibilities are determined by where they work, there are many core tasks associated with the role. Based on our analysis of job listings, these include:

Assess Patients

Through reviews of family and case histories, personal observations, interviews, and extensive assessments, mental health specialists analyze and diagnose various mental health illnesses in patients. They identify specific conditions in order to arrange for proper treatment plans. This responsibility also includes reassessing patients to determine the need for further counseling or to release patients from care.

Provide Counseling

Once a diagnosis has been made, mental health specialists develop best treatment plans for their patients. They apply various counseling methods to address each patients’ illness. This includes daily or weekly sessions, crisis intervention services, and making referrals to other professionals if needed.

Develop Progress Reports

Mental health specialists write and update patient progress reports on a timely basis. They note improvements, setbacks, patient disposition, and other details in written reports that are submitted to superiors, such as social workers, clinic directors, or psychologists.

Maintain Patient Records

In this role, mental health specialists ensure that all information contained in patient records is accurate and updated. They note any changes in medication, treatments, patient health history, and any other relevant information that pertains to or impacts a patient’s treatment.


Mental Health Specialist Skills and Qualifications

Do you have the desire to help others? Are you attentive, patient, and supportive? Can you work in a sometimes stressful environment? These are some traits and abilities exemplified by successful mental health specialists. We reviewed several online job postings and found that mental health specialists are often required to display the following additional skills:

  • Counseling – the ability to apply various techniques to help patients cope with different mental health issues is a #1 priority for mental health specialists
  • First aid – in many cases, mental health specialists are required to possess basic knowledge of first aid and CPR
  • Crisis management – mental health specialists must remain calm and address crisis situations in a way that quickly and effectively diffuses emergencies
  • Communication skills – strong verbal and written communication skills are key when speaking with patients and other mental health professionals, and when writing progress reports and patient notes
  • Self-motivation – though mental health specialists work under supervisors such as social workers and mental health directors, they must be able to carry out counseling and report-writing duties with little to no supervision
  • Organization skills – mental health specialists need strong organization skills to set up counseling sessions, maintain patient files, and track patient progress
  • Collaboration – mental health specialists must be willing and open participants when working with clinic directors, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and other professionals, as well as patient families when needed


Mental Health Specialist Education and Training

Most employers require that candidates for a mental health specialist position hold at least a bachelor’s degree, though some could require a master’s degree in psychology, counseling, or social work. Master degree programs in these areas usually include a clinical internship in which students interact with and counsel actual patients under the supervision of licensed therapists. Knowledge of basic CPR and first aid is often mentioned as a requirement for those seeking to become a mental health specialist. There are typically no licensing requirements for those working at this level of counseling.


Mental Health Specialist Salary and Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the annual median salary for mental health specialists, or counselors, is close to $43,000. Those in the 10th percentile earn nearly $27,000, while those at the top of the pay spectrum can make $70,000 per year.

Mental health specialists working in outpatient care centers earn an average yearly wage of about $44,500, while those employed in mental health and substance abuse facilities earn close to $40,000 annually. Alaska (about $65,500), Utah ($61,000), and Wyoming ($58,000) have the highest annual salaries for mental health specialists.

The employment growth rate for mental health specialists is projected to be 23 percent through 2026, the BLS states. A continued need for counseling services for drug abusers, military veterans, and incarcerated individuals is believed to be the major factor in this expected growth.


Helpful Resources

Think a career as a mental health specialist might be for you? If you’re contemplating such a career and want to learn more, access the links provided below to read more about what it takes to work as a mental health specialist:

American Mental Health Counselors Association – mental health specialists and other professionals in the field can turn to the AMHCA, established in 1976, for continuing education, advocacy, networking, webinars, and so much more

Psychology, Mental Health and Distress – through case studies and first-hand experiences, this book takes a modern look at diagnosing and treating mental health illnesses by challenging conventional thoughts about mental health and treatment

Mental Health America Blog – presented by Mental Health America, a nonprofit organization focused on mental health and its care, this blog offers posts about legislation, clinical news, and tips for fighting depression and other mental health illnesses

New Roads Behavioral Health Blog – from signs of mental illness to relapse strategies, this blog, hosted by a behavioral treatment center in Utah, can help support and educate mental health specialists as well as patients

“Meet Our Team: Ryan, Mental Health Specialist” – get a look at what mental health specialists do by reviewing this Franciscan Children’s blog post from May 2017. Franciscan Children’s is a pediatric mental health rehabilitation facility in New England

Complementary and Alternative Treatments in Mental Health Care – is the typical approach to all mental health illnesses always the most effective approach? What are alternative ways to treat depression, dementia, and other mental health conditions? This book helps mental health specialists realize there are other ways to treat mental illnesses and explores the clinical applications of these methods


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