Last Updated on February 12, 2024 by Beth Skwarecki
Without question, working as a mental health professional is one of the most challenging yet rewarding jobs anyone can do.
Few other roles give an individual as much opportunity to make a positive, life-changing, and long-term impact on the lives of those who need help the most.
Make no mistake, the mental health industry can be very hard work. But when you see how much you have empowered someone to live a much happier and less stressful life than they previously were doing, there really is no sense of achievement that can beat it.
So, how, then, do you go about becoming a mental health professional?
Whether you are a year 12 student plotting your future path or someone who fancies a change to a more fulfilling role, why not take the first step to your future career?
Here is our beginner’s guide to six essential steps to becoming a mental health professional.
How Big Is the Demand for Mental Health Professionals in Australia?
The short answer to this question is big.
According to a report from the National Skills Commission, the need for skilled and qualified mental health professionals is expected to grow by around 23 percent in the period up to 2026. This probably should not come as a surprise, considering the degree to which the global pandemic affected many people’s minds and lives.
In fact, a recent report published by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare highlighted how difficult those impacts were on the nation’s population. It revealed that over 29 million Medicare-related services – focusing specifically on mental health – were accessed between March 16th, 2020, and May 1st, 2022.
Moreover, it revealed that 11.2% of Aussies required a mental health-specific, subsidised service between 2020 and 2021. This figure rose from 6.9% in 2010-11, which indicates that the need is increasing.
Is Being a Mental Health Professional Rewarding?
Working in a career that is human-centered can be highly rewarding. There is no better feeling than helping people to cope with their mental health issues and live a more empowered life within their community.
When a person’s mental health is in a good place, they experience wellness rather than illness. However, when it is not flourishing, it can impact many areas of their lives, including social, physical, emotional, and cognitive aspects.
Subsequently, those who seek support during these difficult times depend upon the expertise, encouragement, and compassion of the professionals who can help them restore their mental wellness.
As a mental health worker, your main goal is to create a safe space for your patients by listening to and identifying their needs. You should also assist them in developing their self-confidence, provide them with reassurance, encouragement, and comfort, and connect them with the appropriate social services or community.
What Qualities do You Need to be a Mental Health Professional?
To succeed as a mental health professional, you need to possess several qualities.
Given that your primary responsibility will be to build healthy relationships with your clients by spending time with them, listening to their concerns, and providing them with advice, you must have strong interpersonal and communication skills. These are essential to create a friendly, trustworthy, and open environment in which to converse.
Additionally, to understand your client’s fears and concerns, you must also have a high level of compassion and empathy. Since each patient is working through their unique mental health challenges, you should put yourself in their shoes to understand their thoughts and feelings better.
For this reason, having excellent judgment skills is essential in the mental health support field, as it allows you to make unbiased and perceptive decisions about your patient’s treatment. You must also be able to ‘read between the lines’ and formulate a deeper understanding of your client’s situation to come up with more effective resolutions.
Since mental health support is a field that focuses on solving, or at least minimizing, a person’s issues, critical thinking skills are mandatory. You will constantly face new challenges and need to develop the best possible treatment plans – which requires high levels of reflection, reasoning, and analysis.
Finally, mental health workers must have plenty of resilience and passion to maintain a successful career. As a sector that seeks to manage and enhance the various life concerns other people have, mental health workers are often prone to high levels of emotional stress and burnout themselves. However, if you possess confidence, drive, and strength in abundance, it will help you create a successful career for yourself.
How Much do Mental Health Professionals Get Paid in Australia?
As a mental health professional, your salary will depend on your level of experience and whether you work in private enterprise or public service.
That said, according to the most recent Payscale statistics, the median wage for those in the industry is about $61,000. The highest earners tend to receive around $80,000 a year.
As you would expect, the more experienced you are, the better you will get paid. Additionally, expertise in roles, such as crisis intervention, counselling, group therapy, and client interaction will provide you with a higher pay packet than those who don’t have it.
How Do I Become a Mental Health Professional in Australia?
If you are serious about becoming a mental health professional, you would be well advised to set out a pathway to help you achieve this goal. Here are five things you can do:
#1. Explore Career Options
It is important to take some time to consider your options before pursuing a career in the mental health profession. The industry offers several specialities, such as mental health nursing, youth work, disability support work, and social work. Therefore, to determine the best role for you, you should assess your skills and interests.
If you enjoy working with young people, a career in youth work may be the best fit. If you are interested in empowering individuals with disabilities on an emotional, physical or intellectual level, then disability support work may be the right choice for you.
Think about your passions in the mental health field before taking the next step. This will help to set you off on the right path.
#2. Get Qualified
Having decided on your chosen career path, you are going to have to achieve the relevant qualifications. This could involve you enrolling in a Graduate Certificate in Mental Health at UTS Online or a vocational education and training (VET) course.
Whichever way you choose to go, having a relevant degree or certifications to your name will hold you in good stead when you come to apply for roles.
#3. Join a Relevant Association
There are various professional bodies in the mental health sector available throughout Australia, so if you are serious about working in the industry, you should join a relevant association.
These organisations help new professionals to connect and network with other professionals. They also give them a vehicle to enhance their reputation in the field and stay updated on the latest industry news and events.
Some of these associations include the Mental Health Professionals Network (MPHN), The Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW) and the Australian & New Zealand Mental Health Association (ANZMHA).
Members of these organisations can receive several industry benefits such as mentorship programs, webinars, credentialing programs, and online networks – although these may differ according to the association.
Since these associations require their members to conform to a certain standard of skill, the professionals associated with them usually improve their chances of being employed and their overall standing within the industry.
#4. Seek Apprenticeship or Traineeship Opportunities
If you’re looking to gain valuable field experience, you might want to consider taking up apprenticeship or traineeship opportunities.
These programs usually lead to a qualification that is nationally recognised, which will give you the necessary credentials and on-the-job experience that potential employers should find attractive.
During the apprenticeship or traineeship, you’ll have the chance to familiarise yourself with the culture and work environment of your chosen speciality. You will also be able to learn alongside industry veterans and perhaps even pick up a mentor. Additionally, you’ll be able to expand your professional network.
#5. Get Your Name out there
Talking of expanding your professional network, you should make every effort to do that through channels like LinkedIn. This is a terrific way to connect with, interact, and learn from people within the industry who have been there making a difference for years.
Strike up a suitable rapport with as many relevant industry professionals as you can, and also make sure you post salient insights that reflect your perspective. Don’t be afraid to ask questions too.
Ultimately, LinkedIn can be an invaluable resource for establishing yourself in the field. It can even secure you some exciting employment opportunities as well.
#6. Learn the Technology
Technology has come on leaps and bounds since the turn of the century, particularly within the mental health industry. Subsequently, there are several apps and tech tools for mental wellness that professionals are now using to assist them with their work.
You should learn about their functionality, as this will give you a competitive advantage in job hunting.
Beth is Cloudmineinc’s senior health editor and a certified personal trainer. She has over 10 years experience as a science journalist and is the author of two books. She deadlifts over 315 lbs.