David Van Engen, Psy.D.
Nothing! Mwa ha ha ha!
I’m joking, of course, but there was a time when it used to feel that way. There is a lot of work out there for new graduates and this blog entry will focus on psychology-based work opportunities. I remember as I approached graduation during my undergrad, this question was the main topic of discussion among the class (and our parental units). Some of us planned to continue the grind and jump straight into grad school, having set our sights on a masters or a doctorate. Others wanted to take some time off from school to either work a little, gain some life experience, consolidate student debt, or simply figure out what they wanted out of life. I wound up taking a middle path that involved working in the field and attending graduate school at the same time.
But what does it mean to “work in the field” with a bachelor’s in psych? Oddly, this was not a topic covered in-depth during college. The joke among students was that an undergrad degree in psych was good for a ticket into grad school or a straight path into any job unrelated to psychology or human behavior. Thankfully, this assumption is not true as the degree is incredibly versatile and may be applied in multiple career fields. The list below is not all-inclusive and is based on both my experience in these settings and discussions with peers and former students. I will continue to add to this entry over time. I would encourage readers to share their experiences with how they utilized their bachelors degree.
This area of work applies primarily to hospital-based settings where individuals in need of acute or immediate care/stabilization are admitted on a [usually] short-term basis. Hospital units like this run 24/7 and are typically divided by need (e.g., high acuity, substance misuse, geriatrics, memory care, pediatric/adolescent, et al.). Job titles in this setting include Psychiatric/Behavioral Technician, Mental Health Tech, or something similar. Your responsibilities in this role include: assisting the Psychiatrist/Nurse Practitioner with the admission process, documentation, monitoring patients on the unit (also known as a milieu), providing support for individuals in emotional or behavioral crisis, behavioral de-escalation, running or supporting group-based interventions, collecting vital signs and other data, and providing 1-to-1 monitoring for the highest risk patients. CPR certification is generally required and/or provided as are behavioral de-escalation/crisis training.
This area of work applies mainly to organizations that provide vital mental health services outside the hospital setting. These may include daytime treatment (individuals attend during the day and are free to leave) or residential programs (individuals live on the premises). The work is somewhat similar to inpatient work in terms of administrative and technical responsibilities are similar but the general acuity and physical demands may be lower.
Pros: Inpatient/Outpatient settings provide some of the richest work experience when it comes to serving diverse populations and exposure to mental health issues. Supporting individuals in crisis with empathy and kindness is incredibly rewarding and truly makes a difference. Work experience will serve you well in terms of learning valuable crisis management and group work skills in a higher-stress environment. Graduate programs and future employers view this type of experience as invaluable.
Cons: The work can be incredibly challenging both physically and mentally. There may be a degree of culture shock for people unfamiliar with severe and persistent mental illness. There is some risk when it comes to physical injury. Units and organizations are often short-staffed and shift work can be a grind. Burnout is a genuine concern. Maintaining a good life balance and boundaries (knowing when to say no) are essential. The pay in these roles varies by organization funding/level of experience.
Group homes are semi/permanent residences for at-risk and vulnerable persons. Job titles include Direct Care/Support Professional, Residential Assistant/Tech, among others. These positions may involve shift work, overnight stays, or occasionally a live-in posting. Additional training such as a a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) or Medication Assistant may be required and/or provided. Responsibilities include: assisting with activities of daily living (e.g., hygiene, dressing, preparing/assisting with meals), documentation, organizing/running structured activities and recreation, milieu management, and transportation for appointments.
Pros: Group home workers are in very high demand and the pay can be competitive. The relationships caretakers form with their residents can last a lifetime. These positions provide exposure to a diverse range of disabilities and severe or persistent physical/mental health illness. Similar to inpatient/outpatient work, experience in this field is viewed favorably by future employers and graduate programs.
Cons: The quality, level of organizational support, work environment, and wages for group homes can vary dramatically. Inadequate staffing and turnover may be a persistent concern. The work may be physically and emotionally demanding. There may be a high degree of burnout.
Crisis intervention is an area of psychology that remains in high demand. The individuals who utilize crisis lines and behavioral health emergency care are in dire need of empathy, support, patience, and sometimes emergency intervention. Responsibilities in this line of work include manning phone, text, and online chat lines, documentation, crisis intervention work, and referral to emergency services. Training is provided and levels of certification can vary by locality and organization.
Pros: There is a dire need for qualified, skilled, and empathetic crisis workers. You will save lives. Bringing hope and light to individuals during the worst days of their lives can be transformational. Experience gained in this field will serve you well if you decide to move on to counseling work and is always viewed favorably by future employers and graduate programs.
Cons: Depending on funding and organizational infrastructure, pay, staffing, and employee support can vary widely. Burnout is very high as the emotional strain of the work may be considerable.
Listing off these options has little utility if you don’t know where to look. I would recommend searching the employment pages of healthcare systems, private organizations, and nonprofit agencies that provide mental health services in the state of Minnesota. The Minnesota Council of Nonprofits job board is an excellent place to get started. Those interested in crisis line work can reference the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (SAMHSA) page for crisis work, which includes job and volunteer postings for over 900 organizations nation-wide. If you are offered a position, don’t be afraid to negotiate for higher wages, especially if you have experience (and even if you don’t). If you have additional questions, feel free to reach out to us at the MPA Student Division.