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Center for Health Workforce Planning and Analysis

Behavioral Health Programs

Print friendly Modified April 21, 2010

Types of Behavioral Health Programs

student walking to classThere are several professions and educational paths that can lead to a career in behavioral health care. Some of the professions included below also provide opportunities outside of behavioral health (e.g. social workers and psychologists). Further, there are other professions that may provide behavioral health care as a part of their services but are not included here (e.g.primary care physicians and Registered Nurses (RNs)).

Licensed Professions

  • Advanced Practice Psychiatric/Mental Health Nursing (APRN): an advanced-level degree for Registered Nurses (RNs) who pursue a master’s degree as either a psychiatric clinical nurse specialist, psychiatric/mental health nurse, or a psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioner. According to the Georgia Board of Nursing, in addition to RN skills the psychiatric/mental health APRN can also provide mental health promotion, mental illness rehabilitation, psychotherapy, clinical supervision, consultation, and liaison services. Graduates can pursue certification in psychiatric and mental health nursing through the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

  • Marriage & Family Therapists (MFT): to become a marriage and family therapist, one must pursue one of the following master’s degrees: marriage and family therapy, counseling, social work, medicine, applied psychology, psychiatric nursing, pastoral counseling, applied child and family development, applied sociology, or from any program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education. In addition, graduates must have completed at least two courses in marriage and family therapy, two courses in marriage and family studies, and one course in marriage and family therapy ethics. Graduates meeting these criteria are eligible to pursue licensure as a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist.

  • Professional, Community and School Counselors Licensed Professional Counselor, LPC): Professional, community and school counselors can pursue multiple educational paths to become eligible for licensure. The Georgia Composite Board of Professional Counselors, Social Workers and Marriage and Family Therapists requires that professional counselors have a master’s, specialist or doctoral degree from a program that is primarily counseling or applied psychology in content with the inclusion of supervised practicum hours during graduate education.

  • Psychiatrists: are physicians who assess and treat persons with mental illness. The required education for general psychiatry is graduation from medical school (Doctor of Medicine or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) and a four-year residency in an approved psychiatric residency program. To practice in a sub-specialty area such as geriatric psychiatry, forensic psychiatry and child and adolescent psychiatry, up to two additional years of training is required.

  • Psychologists: a doctoral degree (Psy.D or Ph.D.) is required to practice as a licensed psychologist. There are multiple subfields of psychology including community psychology, developmental and child psychology, counseling psychology, industrial and organizational psychology, clinical psychology, and many others.

  • Social Workers: a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work (BSW) is the entry level degree, but most healthcare employers require a Master’s Degree in Social Work (MSW). A minimum of the licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) is generally required for mental health settings , but depending on the expectations of the position and the employer, the Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) may be preferred or required. A Master’s Degree in Social Work is required for licensure in Georgia.

Non-licensed Professions

  • Certified Peer Specialists (CPS): are consumers of mental health services who participate in training, ongoing education and support, and testing to become certified through the Georgia Certified Peer Specialist (CPS) Project. Georgia developed the CPS Project to create a certified peer support workforce who could provide self-directed recovery to persons receiving mental health services in Georgia. The CPS Project website explains that, “Under immediate to general supervision, the certified peer specialist provides peer support services; serves as a consumer advocate; provides consumer information and peer support for consumers in emergency, outpatient or inpatient settings.” 1 The CPS certification does not have national reciprocity and thus is currently applicable only in Georgia. Georgia does provide Medicaid reimbursement for CPSs in the areas of Peer Support Services, Psychosocial Rehabilitation, Individual Community Support, and Assertive Community Treatment.

  • Pastoral Counselors: are faith based providers who have received formal training to provide counseling and therapy. As described by the American Association of Pastoral Counselors (AAPC), “Pastoral counseling moves beyond the support or encouragement a religious community can offer, by providing psychologically sound therapy that weaves in the religious and spiritual dimension.” 2 Pastoral counseling is a non-sectarian interfaith practice, and the AAPC certified counselors work with more than 80 different faith groups. A pastoral counselor could work in an institutional setting, a counseling agency, or in private practice. Often, a pastoral counselor is employed by a counseling center that provides individual and family therapy, as well as educational programming. The educational training to becoming a pastoral counselor includes a bachelor’s degree, a professional degree from a seminary, and advanced clinical training in counseling and the practice of psychotherapy. Many pastoral counselors may pursue licensure through either the Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) or the Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) routes.

  • Psychiatric/Mental Health Technicians: play a key role in the delivery of behavioral health care, particularly at in-patient facilities. Psychiatric/mental health technicians perform a multitude of tasks including direct care activities, basic nursing procedures, implementation of portions of treatment plans, assist patients/consumers in learning daily living skills, participate in recreational and social activities, accompany patients/consumers to appointments and activities, and observe and document patient/consumer behavior. The educational requirement for technicians is typically a high school diploma or equivalent. However, there are two psychiatric/mental health technician programs available, one each through the USG and the TCSG. Georgia is similar to the majority of states in that it does not license technicians providing direct care to persons with mental health diagnoses and/or developmental disabilities. 3

  1. Georgia Certified Peer Specialist Project (2003). “Job Description,” Retrieved August 13, 2009 from:
  2. American Association of Pastoral Counselors (2009). “About Pastoral Counseling,” Retrieved September 21, 2009 from:
  3. According to the American Association of Psychiatric Technicians 46 states do not have a licensure requirement for psychiatric technicians.