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With mental health and addiction issues plaguing America, earning degrees to become addiction professionals may not be a bad idea. The occupational outlook in this field is booming. By 2020, mental health issues and addiction will surpass all physical diseases. They will become the leading cause of disability worldwide. These diseases will become a huge burden to society.

Since more and more people are struggling with either a mental health disease or a substance use disorder, careers in behavioral health care often come with a high earning potential. It’s possible for these professionals to rake in a decent salary. Even starting positions come with a decent earning potential. It’s also easy to climb up the ladder. Those with more experience enjoy higher earning potentials.

“In 2014, approximately 9.8 million American adults struggled with a serious mental illness, and 22.5 million struggled with a substance use disorder.”

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

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Careers in mental health and substance abuse require a wide variety of different levels of education. It’s a career that needs a substantial amount of training and education. Those who are interested in a career in behavioral health care should take a look at this guide for more information. Learn more about the different career options available. Get a better idea of the occupational outlook.

beginning a career in behavioral health care

Beginning a Career in Behavioral Health Care

To get started with a career in behavioral health care, you’ll need some form of higher education. Higher-level jobs require even more advanced degrees and even more experience in the field. To qualify for a career in behavioral health care, you’ll need to spend anywhere from 2 to over 8 years in school.

The amount of money you’ll need to invest in your education can range anywhere from $15,000 to over $100,00. The cost of your education will depend on the program you choose and where you decide to get your schooling from. It’ll also depend on whether you qualify for any scholarships.

The good news is that finding a job once you graduate should be a piece of cake. There are many employment opportunities out there, so you should quickly and easily find something that’s right for you.

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Overall Occupational Outlook

The occupational outlook for jobs in the addiction and behavioral healthcare field is great. Most positions are growing at a rate that’s much faster than the national average. There’s a huge demand for counselors that specialize in substance abuse issues and behavioral health disorders.

Those who are interested in this field will only need to invest as much as 8 years of education to get the position they want. Tuition and educational expenses usually range from $15,000 to $100,000. Although this may seem like a lot, those who graduate will usually be able to make back this money in no time.

Over 89 million Americans have difficulties finding mental health professionals in their area.”

There are so many unfilled jobs in this field that many colleges and universities are trying to expand their programs. This is an attempt to keep up with the rising demand. Due to the fact that there are so many unfilled positions, many employers are forced to hire job seekers with other experiences and background. Not all applicants may be the best fit.

As a result, those who are interested in breaking into this field will usually find employment with ease. This provided that they have a degree in addiction or behavioral healthcare.

popular types of careers in this field

If you’re interested in working in the mental health and addiction field, you’re in luck. There are many different types of career opportunities to choose from. Take a look below for some of the most popular options.

A Certified Behavioral Health Technician (CBHT) is an entry-level position. These professionals assist counselors, psychiatrists, and mental health counselors. They provide support to anyone receiving addiction treatment or mental health services. They’re always on their feet. Some of their job responsibilities include:

  • Offering care services to patients struggling with mental health disorders, disabilities or substance use disorders
  • Monitoring each patient’s physical and mental condition
  • Reporting changes to the medical staff

A CBHT position requires a minimum of a high school diploma or general equivalency degree. These professionals often work at residential rehab facilities and other community-based programs. Their hours can vary, especially if they work in inpatient treatment facilities.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, technicians earned a median annual wage of $31,670 in 2017.  The top 10%

The median annual wage for psychiatric technicians was $31,670 in May 2017. With that said, the lowest 10% earned less than $21,930, and the top 10% earned more than $59,600 in the same year.

Social workers help people learn how to solve and cope with problems in their daily lives. They will assess each patient’s needs and identify the type of support systems they need. Clinical social workers also have the ability to diagnose and treat emotional issues, mental health disorders, and behavioral disorders.

In general, the entry requirement for social workers is a bachelor’s degree. The entry requirement for clinical social workers is a master’s degree. Some establishments may require a doctorate. Clinical social workers also need to be licensed in the state that they work in.

Social workers can work in a variety of work settings. They can usually find work at:

  • Mental health clinics
  • Schools
  • Human service agencies
  • Hospital
  • Private practices
  • Rehab facilities

The job outlook for these positions is projected to grow an astounding 16% from 2016 to 2026. This is much faster than many other occupations.

In 2017, the median annual wage for social workers was $47,980. The top 10% earned more than $79,740 and the lowest 10% earned less than $29,560.

Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, or Mental Health Counselor

Mental health counselors, substance abuse counselors, and behavioral health counselors assess, diagnose and treat various conditions. These professionals work in various work environments. Some of these places include:

  • Hospitals
  • Detox centers
  • Inpatient and outpatient facilities
  • Sober living environments
  • Correctional facilities
  • Schools

To become a mental health counselor, you must have a master’s degree and a state license. Most employers will also require at least two years of field experience.

On the other hand, substance abuse counselors and addiction counselors may get away with only holding a bachelor’s degree. The requirements vary from state to state. Those who work in private practices must be licensed.

The job outlook for these employment opportunities is projected to grow 23% from 2016 to 2026. This is much faster than many other occupations.

The median annual wage for these positions was $43,300 in 2017. With that said, the lowest 10% brought home only $27,310 in the same year. The highest 10% of earners raked in more than $70,840.

Nursing Assistants

Nursing assistants are also known as nursing aides. They provide basic care for patients in inpatient treatment centers. They offer assistance to patients and will listen and record their concerns, so they can report that information to nurses. Nursing assistants can also serve meals and measure each patient’s vital signs, like his or her blood pressure and temperature.

Depending on their training level and the state that they live in, they may also dispense medication. In general, nursing assistants often develop close bonds with each patient.

Nursing assistants do not generally need a lot of education. They usually only need to complete a state-approved education program. Also, they may need some on-the-job training to learn each employer’s policies and procedures.

In comparison to other occupations, the outlook for any nursing position is projected to grow faster than normal. From 2011 to 2016, nursing assistant employment is projected to grow by 11%.

As for salaries, the median nursing assistant salary in 2017 is $27,520. The top 10% earned more than $38,630. On the other hand, the lowest 10% earned less than $20,680.

Registered Nurse

Registered nurses will also often work for drug and alcohol treatment centers. Nurses provide care to patients. They may educate them on their condition, provide advice, help assess each patient’s condition and manage his or her treatment.

There are many different types of nurses. There are registered nurses and specialized nurses like psychiatric nurses. The latter have more advanced degrees and can provide more specialized treatment to patients. For example, psychiatric nurses can help patients who have been diagnosed with mental health problems.

Nurses will usually have at minimum a bachelor’s degree. Some may also possess a master’s degree.

Employment of all nurses is projected to grow faster than other occupations. Employment of registered nurses is projected to grow 15% by 2026.

The median salary for different nursing positions will depend on the type of degree that each nurse holds and their specialty. With that said, registered nurses earned a median salary of $70,000 in 2017. The top 10% earned more than $104,100 while the lowest 10% earned less than $48,690.

Nurses that specialize in specific fields may earn a bit more. For example, the median salary for psychiatric nurses is $96,460.


Psychologists are doctors who are trained to treat and diagnose mental health conditions. These professionals study cognitive, social, and emotional processes. They observe how various individuals observe and interpret environmental cues and triggers.

Most psychologists can provide psychotherapeutic treatment, like talk therapy or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). These therapies can be very beneficial to addicts. They can retrain their mind and change their habits.

Psychologists will often collaborate with physicians and social workers to provide the best quality of care possible to patients. Many psychologists work in private practices. However, many psychologists are full-time team members at alcohol or drug rehab centers. This gives them an opportunity to conduct the research they need.

To become a psychologist, one would need a doctoral degree in psychology. With that said, a master’s degree may be enough for some positions. All psychologists will also need to apply for a state license before they can begin their practice. The requirements will vary by state.

The median annual wage for psychologists in 2017 was $77,030. The top 10% took home $124,520, while the lowest 10% earned less than $42,330. The amount that psychologists can earn will depend on where they practice and the number of hours they work.

In general, the occupational outlook for psychologists is quite good. This field is set to grow by 14% from 2016 to 2026. Job prospects are best for those with a doctoral degree.


Psychiatrists are trained medical doctors. While many people seem to confuse psychologists with psychiatrists, there are some differences. Psychiatrists have the ability to prescribe medications. They also spend a significant amount of time on medication management.

These professionals can treat and diagnose a wide variety of mental health disorders. Many of them will choose to specialize in a specific field or in a specific disorder. For example, some psychiatrists will specialize in substance use disorders (SUDs) while other specialists may treat bipolar disorders.

At alcohol and drug rehab centers, psychiatrists are usually in charge of coming up with an addiction treatment plan for each patient. Each patient will need an individualized course of treatment.

Much like psychologists, psychiatrists will also use behavioral interventions as well.

Psychiatrists have a mean annual income of $186,000. With that said, many psychiatrists do earn significantly more. It all depends on their area of practice, the number of clients they have, and the amounts of hours that they work.

Addiction Medicine Physician

Addiction medicine physicians are a bit different than psychiatrists. They are doctors that specialize in an area other than psychiatry. However, they also have:

  • Subspecialty board certification in addiction medicine from the American Board of Preventive Medicine (ABPM)
  • Subspecialty board certification in addiction psychiatry from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN)
  • Board certification in addiction medicine from the American Board of Addiction Medicine (ABAM)
  • Certificate of Added Qualification in Addiction Medicine conferred by the American Osteopathic Association (AOA)

These doctors are able to treat and diagnose both drug and alcohol addiction. They can prescribe medications and treatments to patients.

These physicians may also work on their area of specialty. They specialize in more than one field.

The job outlook for an addiction medicine physician is quite decent. Also, these professionals make an average annual salary of $226,330 a year. The top professionals make more than $370,000 annually.

The Different Types of Degrees You Can Earn

If you want to get into behavioral healthcare, you’re going to need to earn a degree. You need specific training in order to qualify for most employment positions.

The different degrees that you can earn include:

  • Associate’s degree
  • Bachelor’s Degree
  • Master’s Degree
  • Doctor’s Degree

Each degree requires a different amount of commitment. While some degrees only take 2 years to complete, others require over 10 years. It all depends on one’s specialty. Those who are looking to specialize in a specific field should make sure that they are interested in that field first.

Let’s take a look at the different degrees needed to become an addiction or mental health professional.

Associate’s Degree

An associate program usually takes about 2 years to complete. While the amount of credits needed in each program will vary, students can usually expect to take a total of 75 to 90 credits.

There are very few mental health jobs that require only an associate’s degree. With that said, those with a degree will usually be considered a strong candidate for entry-level positions. These positions usually have minimal educational requirements.

Those with an associate’s degree may also have an easier time getting an internship position. These individuals will usually work towards a more advanced degree in the meantime.

Some relevant associate’s degree that can help those looking for a career in behavioral healthcare include:

  • Health science
  • Mental health counseling
  • Nursing

Many people with an associate’s degree may start off as a technician or may start off as a social worker.

Types of Classes

Those who take an associate’s degree in mental health services and addiction can pick different specializations. Some programs allow students to specialize in a specific field, while others are tailored for a specific career path. In general, classes for associate’s degree programs usually include foundational and theory-based courses. Common examples include:

  • Human development and psychosocial rehabilitation
  • Community mental health
  • Mental and developmental disabilities
  • Case management skills
  • Therapeutic activities

Students can take different types of classes to finish their program. It all depends on the career path they plan on chasing.

Popular Career Choices and Overall Occupational Outlook

Since an associate’s degree provides a minimal amount of education and training, many people are concerned about their occupational outlook with earning this type of degree. Fortunately, there are quite a few options to choose from. Those with an associate’s degree can apply for the following positions:

  • Caseworker for family support services
  • An assistant for a mental health rehabilitation center
  • Nursing home administration assistant
  • A director or manager for a shelter
  • Group facilitator

Many individuals with an associate’s degree will go on to earn a baccalaureate degree. A bachelor’s degree can help guide them further into a specific vocation.

In general, the occupational outlook for these careers is quite decent. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 16% increase in employment opportunities for social and human service assistants from 2016 to 2026. This is a larger increase than the national average for many other career fields.

Also, the median pay for those in this employment position averages to about $33,120 per year.

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Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor’s degree usually takes about 4 years to complete. The amount of credits needed in each program may vary. However, in general, students can expect to need about 120 credits, or 40 classes.

This type of degree takes a longer time to complete, but will open more employment opportunities to students. This is why most people with an associate’s degree will go back to school for a bachelor’s degree. Not only will they have more opportunities, but their salary will usually also increase.

Some of the more relevant bachelor’s degrees for those interested in behavioral health sciences include:

  • Counseling
  • Nursing
  • Psychology
  • Sociology

To earn most of these degrees, students will need to complete an internship or a practicum. They need field hours that show that they have hands-on training. For example, those who are interested in substance abuse counseling should consider working for drug counselors. The certified counselors can specialize in drug counseling, school counseling, rehabilitation counseling and more.

Students who have completed a bachelor’s degree will become eligible for a graduate program. Those applying for a graduate program should make sure that they’re bachelor’s degree is in a related field.

Types of Classes

Since a bachelor degree is more advanced than an associate degree, students usually take classes that provide more in-depth information on mental health and addiction. These courses also usually include hands-on training. This is to ensure that the students not only understand the theories, but can apply them as well.

Classes will usually incorporate research techniques and strategic thinking. For example, students may be trained to create personalized treatment plans for drug addiction. They may also learn different strategies for relapse prevention. Some common classes include:

  • Relapse prevention
  • Crisis management
  • Addiction treatment strategies

Fieldwork is particularly important, especially with mental health and addiction programs. Students need the real-world experience to receive feedback on their understanding of the course material.

Popular Career Choices and Overall Occupational Outlook

Some of the more popular career choices for those with a bachelor’s degree in the mental health or addiction field include:

  • Mental health counselor
  • Social worker
  • Behavioral health technician

The occupational outlook for careers in this area is quite good. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there will be a 23% growth in employment opportunities for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors. In 2017, these professionals earned a median pay of $43,300 per year.

Degree Options for Addiction Specialists

Master’s Degree

Most high-level careers in addiction medicine and behavioral health care will require at least a master’s degree. Those who are interested in getting a graduate degree will usually also need to complete an internship or a residency program. Many licenses will actually require students to complete fieldwork that is directly related to their profession.

“To obtain a master’s degree in counseling, students must complete at least 600 hours of clinical internship practice at an approved site.”

Students who are interested in earning a master’s degree in behavioral health can choose from the following specialties:

  • Counseling
  • Education
  • Health science
  • Medicine
  • Medical science
  • Psychology
  • Public health
  • Social work

There are a lot more areas to specialize in. Students can pick and choose the courses that they are interested in. Many professionals will usually be satisfied with a graduate’s degree. Unless they’re really interested in furthering their career, not many will choose to pursue a doctorate.

Popular Career Choices and Overall Occupational Outlook

Those who hold a graduate degree will usually have a lot more career choices to choose from. They’ll have the knowledge needed to excel in many areas. Some of the most common employment positions for those that hold a master’s degree include:

  • Addiction medicine physician
  • Mental health counselor
  • Psychiatrist
  • Psychologist

The occupational outlook for careers in this area is quite decent. Most of these positions have room for growth.

Doctor’s Degree

Depending on the program, students may be able to jump straight into a doctorate degree from a bachelor’s degree. Some other programs may only accept applicants that have a master’s degree.

Doctoral programs that accept applicants with a bachelor’s degree will usually take anywhere from 4 to 6 years to complete. Programs that accept applicants with master’s degree usually take only 2 to 6 years to complete.

In general, students will also need to complete an internship in their area of specialization. Most schools will require a minimum of 600 hours. The internship could include anything from administrative work to clinical practice to teaching or consulting.

There are many different types of doctoral programs available. Some of the most common areas of specialization include:

  • Behavioral health
  • Counseling
  • Education
  • Medicine
  • Nursing
  • Psychology
  • Public health
  • Social work

Some students may choose to further their degree with additional certifications. In general, those with a doctor’s degree are considered as specialists in a specific field. It’s easy for them to find a job. They’ll also specialize in a specific area of substance abuse and addictions.

a different alternative: working with service animals

A Different Alternative: Working with Animals

Those who are interested in getting a behavioral health degree can also work with animals. Many professionals in this field of study will tell you that there’s nothing better than a life dedicated to creatures.

It’s easy to switch from a specialty that focuses on human beings to one that focuses on animals. Some specialists may research or learn about a specific animal.

Most degrees in this area will require hands-on training. There are many different degrees that can be obtained by those interested in working with animals. Some of the most common ones include:

  • Agriculture management, which teaches students how to manage plans and animal resources. Those who get this degree are usually interested in running a business or protecting endangered wildlife.
  • Animal behavior, which teaches students how to understand the behavior of animals. Those who take these courses are usually interested in becoming an animal trainer or a research scientist.
  • Animal biology, which blends biological scientific study with animal husbandry practical methodologies. Studying this field will be beneficial for those looking into veterinary medicine or animal husbandry.
  • Animal shelter management, which teaches students how to take care of various animals. Most students will want to get a job that focuses on lifesaving-centered management.
  • Farm management, which teaches students how to run a farm in an effective manner. This includes how to deal with operations, production, and marketing.
  • Zoology, which studies how animals interact with their environment. This type of degree is perfect for those who want to work at a zoo.

There are many other degrees to choose from. There’s marine biology, ecology, fisheries and aquatic science and more. If you’re interested in working with animals, speak with a counselor to see what degree will best fit your interests.

The Different Types of Career Paths for Those with Animal Degrees

Students interested in working with animals can specialize in one of four career paths. Each career path will require the completion of specific courses. The different paths include:

  • Veterinary sciences. This branch of medicine focuses on animal medical research and the treatment of animals. Possible career opportunities include veterinarians and veterinary technicians.
  • Animal sciences. This degree focuses on the optimization of various livestock qualities. Students may learn about disease prevention, genetics, management and more. Possible career opportunities include positions in equine sciences or production and management.
  • Biology. This field of study is quite broad. Those interested in this study can go into zoology, marine biology and more.
  • Business management and finance. Those who aren’t great at working with animals, but would like to work with them should consider getting a degree in this field. Many degrees involve facilitating businesses and managing their overall productivity. Career opportunities include farm management and executive director of animal shelters or humane societies.

To determine which type of degree would best fit your interests, speak to a school counselor. It can be difficult to figure out what will work best for your situation. You should consider taking courses in different areas if you’re still on the fence about what you want to do.

The overall job outlook for all of these positions is also quite decent. Those who specialize in these areas will usually be able to find a job with ease after completing their degree.

Examples of Possible Jobs at Each Degree Level

Much like with addiction medicine and behavioral healthcare degrees, students can earn an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree or a doctor’s degree. Each degree level will open up specific employment opportunities.

Naturally, those with a doctorate are much more specialized. They’ll usually have better job prospects and also be entitled to higher annual salaries. Here’s an example of possible jobs at each degree level.

  • A dog groomer with a diploma or who has completed a certificate program. The length of study will vary from one organization to another. Most pet grooming programs take about 2 to 4 months to complete.  Students will learn pre-grooming procedures, cat grooming techniques, dog grooming techniques and more.
  • A veterinary technician with an associate’s degree. The length of study is usually about 2 years. Students learn about veterinary medicine, advanced animal care, pharmacology, veterinary office management and more.
  • A farmer with a bachelor’s degree. This type of degree will usually take 4 years to complete. Students learn about animal nutrition, animal diseases, farm accounting and more.
  • A zoologist with a master’s degree. A master’s degree usually takes an extra 2 years to complete once a student has finished their bachelor’s degree. The types of topics that students learn include animal physiology, developmental biology, and animal ecology.
  • A veterinarian with a doctor’s degree. This type of degree usually takes an extra four years to complete after a student has earned a bachelor’s degree. Students learn about domestic animal behavior, comparative anatomy, pathology, pharmacology, internal veterinary medicine and more.

There are many possible jobs at each degree level. Those who find an area that they are interested in can continue to further their education. It’s also easy to get a degree from online programs. There are many accredited online colleges.

Get the Training or Education You Need to Break Into this Field

Get the Training or Education You Need to Break into this Field

Degrees in addiction medicine or behavioral healthcare can help you land a great job. There’s so much demand for people with these degrees that it’s easy to land a job right after graduating. Most positions offer great healthcare benefits and salaries.

If you’re interested in getting into this field or learning more about addiction, check out the programs that your local college or university may offer. Each college and university will have unique application requirements. They’ll also be able to offer different programs.

You can find programs both at local colleges and online. Earning an online master in addiction may be easier than you’d think. Many colleges offer online degrees in addiction counseling. If you’re interested in an online program, make sure that you look for accredited online colleges.

Check out not only the type of addiction studies and programs offered at each facility, but also whether each college can provide financial aid. Next, consider the application process.

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