Americans are struggling with increased rates of depression, anxiety and difficulties in relationships, in part due to pandemic stress and resulting significant social and economic difficulties, according to reports from the KFF and other medical experts. As a result, the need for behavioral and mental health clinicians, especially those who integrate race and social justice, is on the rise. Employment of relationship therapists, clinical social workers, mental health counselors and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners is projected to grow 23% from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations overall, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Here are seven mental health careers along with a rundown of the kind of graduate study required for entry into this rapidly expanding field.

1. Mental health counselor

Master’s level psychologists, licensed in Washington as mental health counselors, provide therapy to individuals, groups, and families, adults and children, in community-based or private practice settings. Therapists need to learn to listen with compassion and to work skillfully across cultural differences by examining their own intersecting identities, values, biases and blind spots. 

These programs seek to nurture a deep curiosity and appreciation for the variety of ways that people from diverse communities find, create and sustain meaning and purpose in their lives.  “I didn’t just learn how to do therapy,” says Seattle University Master of Arts in Psychology graduate Rosie Newman. “I learned a way of being — a way of turning toward others — that has provided an essential foundation for my career as a play therapist.”

2. Couples and family therapist

Licensed marriage and family therapists require many of the same skills as a mental health counselor, along with the desire to mediate the desires of people who care about each other but may not agree with one another. A good candidate for this career path has a passion to work with diverse family forms: partners, parent-child, and extended families.

Being a relational therapist requires the ability to use evidenced-based practices, tolerate ambiguity, and be adaptable and flexible as the solutions to deep-seated relationship issues aren’t one-size-fits all. The therapist’s job is to help family members work together to see how problems are formed and maintained, so that habits can be changed and solutions can be created.

3. Clinical social worker

Clinical social work is the mental and behavioral health specialization within the broad profession of social work.  This specialization builds on generalist social work’s person-in-the-environment orientation, respect for diversity and difference, advocacy for social and economic justice, and challenging oppressive structures. 

Clinical social workers engage in multidimensional assessments, diagnosis, and strengths-based and empowerment interventions to collaboratively work towards client desired change.   

An MSW with clinical specialization opens doors to diverse career opportunities in mental health clinics, hospitals, schools, gerontology and hospice, trauma and veteran services, public defender and justice organizations working with individuals, families and groups.  

The ideal candidate for this field is interested in clinical practice that views the person in the context of their world, promotes well-being and healing in individuals, families, groups and communities as well as social justice.

4. Clinical mental health counselor

A graduate level Clinical Mental Health Counseling program prepares students to work in community setting such as youth service agencies, mental health centers, psychiatric hospitals, and correctional facilities. Students are trained in emerging individual and group counseling theories, assessment tools, and the critical thinking needed to make research-based professional judgements.  

Becoming a clinical mental health counselor is a journey of personal and professional growth that begins with compassion and a genuine desire to help others. Field work, classroom discussions, and individual study and self-reflection all help to mold diverse, ethical, reflective, clinically skilled and multiculturally competent counselors qualified to serve in diverse communities.


5. School psychologist

In the rapidly changing world of K-12 education, the demand for school psychologists and the support they offer students, teachers and parents has never been greater. In fact, there’s a crisis shortage of school psychologists in most regions nationwide.

This can be a fast-paced job where no two days are exactly the same. Responsibilities include providing assessments, counseling, consultation, and interventions in the areas of academics, behavior, and social emotional learning.

A high-quality school psychology program infuses social justice in the form of critical examination of inequities in education that promote racism, ableism and other forms of injustice, identification of promising alternatives that promote equity, an emphasis on culturally informed practices, critical reflection of oneself and development as a school psychologist. These concepts range across curriculum content areas from theory to application in assessment, counseling, consultation and intervention.

6. School counselor

Professional school counselors are leaders and social change agents in K-12 schools, often acting as advocates for social justice in their communities as well. A graduate level school counseling program prepares students for this rewarding career with training in technology competence, ethical decision making and knowledge of education legal matters. Students may also pursue a clinical mental health or substance use professional license and certification.

7. Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner

Psychiatric nurse practitioners are highly recruited in the specialty areas of hospital inpatient, community health and private practice; working with adults, adolescents and children/families. Initially, students in a PMHNP program will master the science skills needed for assessment, diagnosis, and prescribing medications. In addition, they will also become skilled at the art of developing an effective, practical, personal plan for the people they provide care for.

Psychiatric nurse practitioners often work with historically underserved communities such as immigrants, people experiencing homelessness, the LGTBQ community and the incarcerated population. Some graduate level programs, such as Seattle University, have a distinct focus on diverse health perspectives and addressing systemic racism in psychiatry.

Seattle University develops the human potential by educating the heart and the mind while empowering leaders for the innovation economy and who are committed to building a better future for all.