By Karen Corcoran-Walsh
College graduates are progressively facing obstacles, and one in particular is centered on seeking employment opportunities in a field related to their graduate degree. Quite often, undergraduates pursuing employment with an associate or bachelor’s degree are not finding jobs as easily as expected; furthermore, the available jobs fail to meet the financial needs of today’s college graduates. The salaries offered simply cannot maintain the young adult’s anticipated standard of living. A recently-released research study exposed the truths within today’s job industry, revealing a lack of employment in areas that have been promising in the past (Steinbaum & Clemens, 2015). One field, however, does not fall into this category.
The mental health profession is ever-growing, constantly proving that it is in demand and in need of rising stars. Not only is this field offering salaries that are enticing to recent graduates, the occupations available are not limited to a specific degree.
As our national employment market becomes the most competitive in history, forcing people of all ages to consider returning to the world of academia in pursuit of master’s and doctorate degrees, mental health professionals are readily finding employment. There are a couple of specific reasons positions within this field are on the rise, and the first one can be attributed to the changes brought on by the Affordable Care Act. Prior to health-care reform, insurance companies turned away and denied coverage to people with mental health illnesses, and this list included anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and even depression. Mental health professions have been on the rise and in demand since insurance companies are now mandated to treat such illnesses (Gleaton, 2015). The other major factor influencing the increase of jobs available in the mental health field can be attributed to the aging baby boomer population. According to Gleaton (2016), the U.S. Census Bureau reported 44.7 million Americans who are 65 or older, and age greatly increases one’s risk to the onset of mental illness like dementia and depression.
The Latest Trend
Mental health professionals who are employed by residential and outpatient addiction-treatment centers, counseling centers, and mental health practices are using their education and resources to leverage their college degrees, certifications, and skill sets. Leveraging education is the latest trend, as individuals are inspired to think out-of-the-box when considering employment options. Mental health professionals, in particular, are forward-thinking and creative individuals, utilizing their college degrees in positions that are not the traditional mental health employment positions. Social workers, marriage and family therapists, and mental health counselors are creating and obtaining management-level positions in businesses offering mental health services. These types of jobs include assisting in cultural-diversity issues, human-resource objectives, employee-assistance programs, and helping to promote and maintain a drug-free workplace. Within today’s workplace, it is quite normal to have aggressive and competitive employees who want to stand out, showcasing their individual skill set in attempts to climb the corporate ladder. Businesses can anticipate these types of employee personalities and traits, and they can utilize mental health professionals to encourage and preserve effective communication and workplace etiquette.
A large number of individuals are reconsidering an extended or advanced education in hopes of finding and creating their “dream job”. For many, returning to college is also how people are responding to limited employment options. A lack of employment within today’s society can be attributed to our economic challenges and an increasing number of overqualified applicants within an overeducated workforce. Many find that combining educational degrees enables them to create a personal “hybrid” skill set, and this newly-manifested resume is often more appealing to a business that is seeking new employees.
Let’s review some examples of creating a hybrid. An MBA is a Master of Business Administration, and this degree is centered on developing skills for business management. Many are combining their MBA with an MFT (marriage and family therapy), an MSW (Master of Social Work), and also MHC (mental health counseling) degrees. Combining such degrees catapults therapists into candidates for upper-management positions such as a company president, vice president, CEO, chief operating officer, and director’s positions in many health care organizations. In doing so, the annual salary of a mental health professional doubles and quite often triples. While these upper-management employment positions have been historically reserved for those who primarily have business-related degrees, they are now available to a whole new population that utilizes a hybrid-based educational approach.
A Promising Look Ahead
Mental health professionals are given a number of newfound opportunities, and these careers are extended to a wide range of companies. For example, medical-billing companies are employing mental health professionals to supplement an additional component of their medical-billing services. This position is referred to as a utilization review specialist. The rising salary within the mental health industry is very enticing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (2016) reported that the average annual wage for mental health professionals who held a bachelor’s or master’s degree was approximately $45,900 in May 2015 (i.e. social workers, mental health counselors, and marriage and family therapists). For individuals who have acquired their state licensure in substance abuse and mental health, such as a Licensed Professional Counselor, their annual salary is increasing by 20% (or greater) (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016).
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (2016) also indicated that over a 10-year period, from 2014 to 2024, employment of social workers is projected to increase by 12-percent, and this is notably faster than the average for all occupations. This 12 percent rise can be attributed to the ever-increasing demand for health care and social services. For example, families require counseling for a number of tragedies; such situations include child abuse, where the victimized children require the proper counseling to live healthy, productive lives.
Those who hold a master’s degree within the mental health field have the opportunity to work with individuals and families affected by addiction, substance abuse, and mental illness. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2016), individuals who have a master’s degree can advance into positions of clinical director, COO, and CEO; furthermore, this enables individuals to transition into top executive positions, where salaries can easily exceed $100,000 annually.
Top Positions and Salaries
The 2015 average yearly wage for top executives was $102,690 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016). Employment of top executives is projected to grow approximately 6 percent from 2014 to 2024, however, this percentage can be highly influenced by a rising opiate epidemic in our nation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (2016) noted that addiction-treatment programs with a residential component may cause the projection to vary. The fact is that cunning disease of addiction is on the rise, and opiate use among all generations is infiltrating families and people of all ages, races, and ethnicities.
Top executives employed at addiction-treatment facilities manage the clinical and medical services of the organization. Those who hold these positions are responsible for company employees’ compliance to policies and procedures, licensing bodies, and local, state, and national standards. These executives, also referred to as human resources managers, often create, direct, and coordinate operational activities of several departments within the organization (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016). Human resources managers plan and coordinate the administrative functions of an organization. They oversee the recruiting, interviewing, and hiring of new staff. They are responsible for consulting with top executives on strategic planning, and they serve as a direct link between an organization’s management and its employees. Personnel departments within agencies and facilities offer high-paying careers. Those working within the human resources departments within addiction treatment facilities easily bring in over fifty thousand dollars a year (Careers in Focus, 2008).
The world is constantly evolving, ever-changing. Much like a trickling effect, as the rising epidemic of addiction continues to manifest, new jobs are created and a surplus of positions become available. Job applicants are applying for positions beyond the scope of their degree and experience. More often than not, professionals are working outside of their particular skill set or education, hoping to increase opportunities for employment. Being qualified to fulfill such positions is a critical component, especially within the mental health field. Lives are at stake, as many people with mental illnesses are dependent on the skill set of the professional who is paving their way to a healthier life. Through leveraging education and developing a hybrid, many individuals are creating newfound positions for themselves, while also providing the necessary care for those requiring treatment and a promising road to recovery.
Karen Corcoran-Walsh, CAP, ICADC, MFT, ASAM owns and runs Inspirations for Youth and Families teen treatment center as well as its adult counterpart Cove Center for Recovery. Both dual-diagnosis facilities treat individuals struggling with substance abuse, such as alcohol or marijuana abuse, as well as mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and trauma.
The viewpoint expressed in this article is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the viewpoint of the owners or employees at Healthcare Staffing Innovations, LLC.