Mental Health vs. Physical Health: Which Field Should You Choose?

February 1, 2014

As the global population continues to grow and evolve demographically, the medical profession will require professionals who can commit to growing and evolving with it.  Though becoming a doctor is often a popular career path, achieving full licensure to practice is a long, complicated, road requiring extraordinary effort and endurance.  You might consider a career in mental health if you are interested in participating in the medical field but aren’t ready to make the commitment to becoming a physician. Take the following into consideration.

Medical work experience student Ashleigh learning practical skills from her mentor in ThailandApproach to Health:  Mental health practitioners know that mental and behavioral health is an ambiguous creature.  Diagnosing mental health issues requires a different approach than diagnosing physical health problems.  When a person has a physical problem, a battery of diagnostic tests can be administered – blood work, scans, MRIs, x-rays all assist the physical health doctor in determining his patient’s condition.  The mental health professional must use a different type of diagnostic tool, often relying on anecdotes from family members and self-reporting from the patient.  The mental health professional must examine the patient’s mind and his surrounding influences in order to reach a diagnosis and formulate a treatment plan.  Mental health relies on talking therapies, behavioral therapies, and pharmacological therapies to help its patients.  Afflictions of the mind must be addressed by mental health professionals. This is something that most physical health practitioners do not have to deal with directly.

Attitude About Patient Care: As a mental health practitioner, the proof that your treatments are working may not always linear or even present.  Physical health doctors see their patients improve and heal.  For example, a child who has broken his arm will eventually be healed as goof as new.  The doctor dealing with physical health has visual proof that his treatments work.  The mental health professional, on the other hand, relies on the word of the patient and his/her family to determine whether a course of therapy is working. There is no clear visual proof, for example, that shows a patient undergoing therapy for childhood trauma has been cured.  As a mental health practitioner, you must be prepared to have a fluid attitude about your patient’s care and recovery.  It may often be out of your control.

Weighing a new born after delivery in TanzaniaTraining for a Mental Health Career:  If you are interested in a mental health career, there are many paths that you can take, depending upon your abilities, academic talents, and interests.  Mental health careers include:

-Professional Counselors



-Psychiatric Nurses

-Social Workers

Each of these paths requires a different skill set, aptitudes, education, training, and licensing exam.  The closest mental health career to a physical health doctor is that of the psychiatrist.  Psychiatrists must complete medical school and a successful residency before obtaining a license to practice. Psychiatrists earn among the highest salaries in the mental health field, as competitive as any physical health doctor.

If understanding the human mind is a mystery you’d like to attempt to solve, then a career as a mental health professional could be just right for you. — Post by Madelaine Kingsbury.