by Megan Korn, Recruiter and Human Resources Leader
Thinking about a career in the mental health field?
If you’re motivated by helping others, becoming a mental health professional could be your calling. As a mental health professional, you step in to help people overcome their life challenges. You can be a source of hope by providing guidance and strategies that enable others to clear obstacles, achieve their goals, and believe in themselves. You can change lives for the better.
In terms of career potential, the field offers many career paths, including social worker, counselor, psychiatrist and psychologist. Better yet, the job prospects are exceptionally promising. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the job growth outlook for substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health counselors and for social workers is well above average.
However, careers in the mental health field are not for everyone. If you’re exploring what mental health career is right for you, you should first ask if this field is a good match. You can start by looking at some of the soft skills that are called into play every day.
Soft skills are the non-technical skills that are needed for success in the workplace. All careers require a mastery of some soft skills, like time management and meeting your commitments. In some fields, soft skills complement technical skills. But in the mental health field, the soft skills can be just as important as the technical skills—if not more so. They also play a major role in your career satisfaction.
Before pursuing a career in this field, ask yourself these six questions.
Do You Like Working With People?
Teamwork and relationship building are foundational to mental healthcare. Working with clients is a given. But depending on your career path, you may also coordinate with other healthcare providers—such as physicians, nurses, psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers—as well as partner agencies, such as housing and employment. No matter which path you take, the ability to communicate clearly, to follow up, to take the lead and to manage complex details are all skills you’ll frequently lean on.
Do You Have Empathy and Patience?
Compassion and empathy are keystones to achieving results in this field. Even if you don’t have personal experience with what a client is going through, you need to be able to listen and offer guidance. Patience and perseverance go hand-in-hand with this. People do not change overnight. You will need to work with them over the long haul to address their needs. While the small victories are tremendously rewarding, this is not a field for those who need instant gratification or who are easily discouraged by setbacks.
Do You Enjoy Problem Solving?
] If you are interested in this field, you likely enjoy solving problems. In terms of working with clients, problem solving requires active listening, critical observation, critical thinking and coordination with others. To develop effective strategies and treatment plans, you’ll need to listen to what your clients are telling you—and pay attention to what they are leaving out.
Do You Have a Strong Work Ethic?
Helping people be their best selves is only one component to working with clients. Behind the scenes, a lot of record keeping and follow up takes place. Depending on your caseload, you could be maintaining files for dozens of clients. This requires a high degree of organization and planning, as well as the ability to be self-directed.
Can You Separate the Personal From the Professional?
Professional detachment is a must in this field. Your clients may engage in behaviors or make decisions that you do not agree with on a moral level. You may be challenged by different perspectives. However, you need to reserve judgment and meet your clients where they are to help them. Likewise, you need to set healthy emotional boundaries between your personal and professional lives—in both the physical and digital worlds.
Are You Adaptable?
No matter what career path you choose, no two days are alike. Mental health providers often need to adjust on the go. You may need to work weekends and evenings. You may need to be on call. You will always need to adapt your approach to your clients and their needs. While this is a positive for those who thrive on change, it can also be cause for stress and even burnout. Stress management is a key tool that mental health professionals need to master.
(Read: Tips for Recovering from Burnout and Finding Balance)
Finding a Good Fit for Your Career
We may be a bit biased, but we believe a career spent helping others is a virtuous undertaking. And the field is in critical need of qualified, compassionate providers.
If you think the mental health field is right for you, the next best step is to thoroughly research the career paths that most resonate with you. Questions to ask yourself include:
What kind of populations do you want to work with?
What type of setting do you want to work in?
How much time are you willing to invest in post-secondary education?
What type of schedule do you want to establish?
What is your desired salary?
What are the license requirements in your state?
Most careers in this field require at least a bachelor’s degree and a license. Your career goals may also require you to pursue a master’s degree or higher. Learning everything you can about where an academic program can take you before you apply is the best use of your time and money.
Have questions about your career or interested in joining our team? I’m always happy to talk with prospective therapists. Contact me at 888-830-0347.
Megan Korn is Compass Point’s Recruiter and Human Resources Leader. Megan has a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. She started her career as a nurse in medical surgery and oncology, before shifting to a career in healthcare recruiting. When she’s not recruiting and supporting specialized providers for our team, Megan enjoys the great outdoors, time with her family and taking her dog for walks.
What to Know Before Becoming Your Own Bossby Jodi Stevens, CPA
Thinking about becoming your own boss? One of the advantages to going out on your own is that there are no one-size-fits-all requirements to self-employment. You can open a private practice. You can work as an independent contractor (also called a 1099) with a company like Compass Point. You can create a constellation of “gig” opportunities, such as teaching, writing or coaching.
In short, you have greater independence to focus your talents on work that brings you joy. You may even discover that you can increase your income.
But asking if you should go out on your own is only half the question. You also need to determine if you can—that is, if you are financially ready. When you are an employee, you meet with clients and receive a check. When you open your own practice or become an independent contractor, your income is less stable. You need to have enough cash on hand for start-up costs. It takes time to ramp up a client base. And you still need to cover your day-to-day requirements, like housing, food and transportation.
By taking the time to get your finances in order before you make the leap, you’ll be more likely to land on both feet. Get started with these four tips:
#1 – Determine Your Start-Up and Ongoing ExpensesWhen you work for someone else as a W-2 employee, you can take things like a furnished office, technology infrastructure and health benefits for granted. When you open your own practice or become an independent contractor, the burden is on you to source and pay for these essentials. To avoid financial surprises, spend time identifying and putting numbers to your start-up expenses, which could include:
As you build your financial plan, keep in mind that many of these expenses are not one-time costs. As you build out your plan, make sure to include other costs that crop up throughout the year, such as continuing education.
#2 – Know Your Financial NeedsWhen you work for yourself, you can set your own schedule. But before you commit to short workdays and long weekends, make sure your business plan can support your lifestyle.
If you haven’t already, establish your personal budget. You’ll need to factor in your requirements—such as housing, food and utilities—as well as your wants—such as eating out or taking a vacation. Remember that you’ll also need to set aside cash for unexpected expenses as well as for long-term goals, like college funds and retirement.
Then, combine this data with your projected business expenses and compare against your desired rate and schedule. If the two don’t align, you’ll need to start making adjustments.
#3 – Budget for the Business CycleWhen you are a salaried employee, you get paid the same whether you’re in the middle of a busy season or stuck in a slow stretch. You also receive paid time off to cover vacations or sick days. You may even get paid for holidays.
When you go out on your own—whether as an independent contractor or by opening your own practice—you can earn a higher billable rate. But if business is slow, your income shows it. In addition, if you decide to open your own practice, “therapist” is just one of many hats you’ll wear. You’ll also need to set aside time for marketing, scheduling, billing and collections, bookkeeping and credentialing. All of this will eat into your billable hours.
In short, you’ll need to be ready for unplanned downtime. That requires setting aside enough cash during upswings to have a cushion for temporary downturns or time away from the office.
#4 – Don’t Forget TaxesTaxes are one of the most common stumbling blocks for the newly self-employed. While this topic alone could generate volumes, one of the most common points of confusion is quarterly estimated taxes. You will be responsible for paying estimated taxes four times a year. In addition, you will also be required to report and pay 15.3 percent in Social Security and Medicare taxes, as opposed to the 7.65 percent you pay as a W-2 employee.
The good news? Independent contractors and small businesses are not required to pay taxes to the state of Ohio on income less than $250,000. In addition, you may qualify for an array of deductions, including for a home office, mileage and health insurance.
Your best bet is to retain an accountant you trust before you go out on your own to ensure you understand your tax liability. An accountant can also help you prepare quarterly payments and annual returns and ensure you are in compliance with all applicable tax laws.
The Best of Both WorldsIf you’re ready to be your own boss but the business side gives you pause, consider becoming an independent contractor. As a contractor, you can partner with a company that will take care of the backend services so you can focus on your clients.
For example, Compass Point handles everything from marketing to scheduling to billing for its contractors. You’ll have access to furnished office space in nearly a dozen locations as well as a digital platform for remote counseling. Compass Point even takes care of credentialing.
As a Compass Point therapist, you can set your own schedule. You’ll have access to client leads as well as a team of compassionate professionals with whom you can collaborate. You can also gain peace of mind knowing that when you take time off, someone is answering the phone in your absence. And with Compass Point’s good-fit model, you’ll be matched with clients who are the right fit for your area of focus.
As a Compass Point therapist, you’ll still be required to report your own taxes. But the professionals at resource partner Stevens & Associates will be available to provide guidance on taxes and accounting.
Interested in learning more about working with Compass Point? Visit our hiring page to learn more.