Mental health is an expanding field, and several occupations in the industry are poised for rapid growth, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Employment in many mental health jobs is expected to grow faster than average between 2008 and 2018, according to the agency's forecasts. In some cases the rates are more than double the 10 percent growth projected across all occupations.
These employment gains come at a time when Americans are ramping up their spending on mental health services. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that between 1996 and 2006 the number of Americans paying for mental health care rose a staggering 87.6 percent, and total expenditures on mental health care rose 63.4 percent.
Mental health professionals provide often-crucial services for this increasingly needy population. Below are five mental health careers expected to see extremely high growth:
1. Industrial-organizational psychologists
Job growth: 26 percent
Industrial-organizational psychologists apply their clinical and research skills to improve workplaces. They develop training systems, conduct surveys and study a wide range of workplace issues from hiring discrimination to absenteeism. It's worth noting that it's a relatively small specialty within the field of psychology, accounting for only 2,300 workers in 2008, according to the BLS.
2. Mental health counselors
Job growth: 24 percent
Mental health counselors are trained to offer therapy for depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses, and address patients' conflicts over a wide range of issues including traumatic events such as divorce and death. Unlike psychologists, who typically have doctoral degrees, and psychiatrists, who must complete medical school and residencies, mental health counselors usually have master's degrees (in addition to being licensed by the state where they work). The BLS attributes their rapid rise in employment to growing demand for mental health services and insurance companies, which are increasingly likely to foot the bill for counseling as opposed to more costly treatment from psychologists or psychiatrists.
3. Social and human services assistants
Job growth: 23 percent
This broad category is used by the BLS to describe a group of workers who provide social services under the supervision of nurses, social workers and other professionals. They might work for a department of social services, run a group home or provide basic counseling services for youth or the elderly, to name a few examples. The increasing prevalence of substance abuse and the aging of the population are driving the boom in employment for these workers, according to the BLS.
Job growth: Psychiatrists are classified with physicians and surgeons, a category that is expected to see 22 percent job growth.
Among mental health professionals, psychiatrists are the most highly trained, qualified to prescribe medication and admit patients to hospitals as well as treat them with psychotherapy or psychoanalysis. Psychiatrists are also the most highly paid, pulling in a national average salary of $222,790, according to CBSalary.com.
5. Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors
Job growth: 21 percent
Mental illness often goes hand-in-hand with substance abuse and other forms of addiction, so these counselors must be trained in therapeutic techniques geared toward individuals, groups and families. Employment is growing in this field due to a growing willingness on the part of many addicts to seek help. In addition, courts are increasingly sending drug offenders to treatment instead of prison, the BLS reports.
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