What Are the Different Types of Mental Health Degree Programs?

Jennifer Leigh

Individuals interested in pursuing an education in mental health can find a wide variety of fields to choose from. There are programs in areas including psychology, social work, counseling, and psychiatry. All of these fields have different requirements to be qualified as a practitioner, and include mental health degree programs at the undergraduate and graduate level.

Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

Students interested in pursuing mental health degree programs at the undergraduate level can major in psychology, social work, or a pre-medicine field. Bachelor's degrees in mental health include classes in basic sciences, liberal arts, and the humanities as well as courses focused specifically on mental health concentrations. Mental health degree programs at the undergraduate level allow students to gain entry-level employment in clinics, agencies, and hospitals working directly or indirectly with patients.

There are mental health degree programs at the graduate level that can lead to a master's degree in a specific area. Programs are offered in such areas as counseling psychology, clinical psychology, and social work. Other graduate mental health degree programs include rehabilitation, school counseling, and couple and family therapy. A student can choose to end his or her education at the master's level and work as a professional therapist in his or her specialty, or go on to obtain a doctoral degree in the same field. After receiving a doctoral degree, the student is able to supervise, teach, and do research in settings such as colleges, hospitals, and clinics.

Some of these degrees, such as certain counseling and clinical psychology programs, automatically lead to a doctoral degree. These types of mental health degree programs allow for students to become psychologists with an emphasis on research as well as clinical practice. Students who choose this variety of program often end up working as practicing psychologists, researchers in labs, or instructors at universities. A specialized doctoral degree created strictly for practicing psychologists is known as a Doctorate of Psychology (PsyD) and is a program that places less emphasis on research and more emphasis on clinical practice with patients.

In many countries psychologists are not allowed to prescribe medications to patients, which is why medical doctors also have mental health degree programs to choose from. The psychiatry specialty requires that an individual first attend medical school before choosing psychiatry as his or her field of choice. At this point the physician can undergo training in mental health, which includes understanding prescription drugs utilized for mental health as well as performing psychotherapy.

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