Mental health may sound like a field that is reserved for people who study psychology. This is not the case, however, and people from a spectrum of academic disciplines (English, Linguistics, History, Philosophy, Social Work) end up working as mental health counselors and therapists.
Because this is a health profession, it is regulated by the government and anyone who wishes to practice in the field of mental health has to pass state mandated education and certification. Those who complete such requirements are eligible for employment in mental health clinics, community mental health centers, hospitals, non-profit counseling agencies, college and university campuses, corporate mental health services (e.g., employee assistance programs, personnel departments, mental health support units) and are eligible to open independent private practices after licensure.
From English to Mental Health? Still seems a bit far-fetched…
Because we are trained to think that certain majors can only lead to a limited number of career paths, we can sometimes find some kinds of career changes surprising. But that’s why careers are careers: your level of education allows you to see connections among fields of study and to improve your qualifications to work in a field that’s new to you, but that is genuinely related to what you have learned as an undergraduate.
Mental Health Counselor
Our alumna Stephanie Rojas (2012) discusses her job as a Mental Health Counselor.
What is your job?
I am a mental health counselor/therapist at an outpatient mental health clinic.
What is the broader field of industry in which this work exists?
What, in general, do you do as part of this job?
The bulk of my work consists of providing bilingual psychotherapy and facilitating medication management to individuals and families. I work with adults who are diagnosed with mental illness, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, posttraumatic stress disorder, and schizophrenia. I also create treatment plans, conduct intake assessments, suicide assessments, and crisis intervention for emergency situations, and present case presentations at staff meetings. The treatment team at the clinic I work in consists of social workers, case managers, nurse practitioners, vocational counselors, and psychiatrists.
What are the pros and cons of this kind of job?
PROS: the satisfaction of helping others achieve personal goals, growth, and empowerment; this field emphasizes self-care (making sure that you, as a clinician, are taking steps to ensure optimal wellbeing to provide the best service for your patients) and it pushes for self-exploration, self-awareness, and personal growth; I also love that I receive ample support from staff.
CONS: tons of paperwork! It can be really stressful and overwhelming and you’re also more susceptible to vicarious trauma.
What skills did you learn as an English major that you use in this job?
Analyzing and interpreting, searching for and exploring themes, and writing coherently and as grammatically correct as possible. Writing and rewriting essays helped!
How have you learned to do this job?
I minored in Counseling at John Jay and went to Fordham University for my masters in mental health counseling. As part of my graduate program, I did an internship for one year where I provided individual counseling under supervision.
How did you get this job?
I did my graduate internship at this clinic. It also helped that I knew Spanish!
For current students interested in this line of work, do you have any recommendations on what they can do now to start directing their career path?
Seek out Internships, interview people in the field and their colleagues, shadow someone, and network. Lastly, explore pros and cons and weigh them out (ask yourself: are you able to handle and manage the cons?)