Guide to Integrated Behavioral Health Careers & Schooling
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According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), integrated behavioral health is the delivery of blended healthcare services for both medical conditions and related behavioral health factors in a single setting. Issues of medical health and behavioral health are largely intertwined, and integrated behavioral health allows healthcare professionals in both fields to work in concert.
Also known as behavioral health integration, integrated care, collaborative care, or primary care behavioral health, integrated behavioral health exemplifies a wider trend in healthcare to shift focus away from siloed specialties and towards whole-person care. A large body of research has found that integrated behavioral health improves patient outcomes and patient experience, and reduces unnecessary costs in time and money.
Integrated behavioral health teams typically practice in a primary care capacity, but can also work in acute care and in a variety of different settings. No matter where they work, these teams can include a wide array of healthcare professionals: anyone involved in the healthcare system may be involved in an integrated behavioral health team. This means that those who do join integrated behavioral health teams will need strong collaboration skills and a firm understanding of the roles and responsibilities of other healthcare professionals.
Below you will find a guide to all the different integrated behavioral health careers, along with information on what educational requirements are needed to join them. To learn more, read on.
Marriage & Family Therapists
Marriage and family therapists help people manage problems with their family and other relationships. Trained in psychotherapy and family systems, they treat a wide range of problems, including depression and anxiety, and evaluate patients through a relational lens. Marriage and family counselors may choose to specialize in a certain demographic, or in a particular relational issue.
Marriage and family therapists will have a graduate degree in marriage and family therapy or a related field; they’ll also need to be licensed in the state in which they practice. Attending a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE) is the easiest way to meet state coursework, internship, and practicum requirements.
Northcentral University offers an online master of arts in marriage and family therapy (MAMFT) program that prepares students for state licensure. It is the first distance education program to be accredited by COAMFTE. Students will develop the skills needed to become competent, ethical, and culturally sensitive MFTs.
The program may be specialized in a number of different areas, including LGBTQ couple and family therapy; trauma-informed systemic therapy; systemic sex therapy; and military family therapy. While all instruction takes place online, students will also complete practicums, internships, and supervised clinical experiences in their home communities. The program consists of a minimum of 45 credits; more may be required depending on the licensure requirements of the student’s home state.
- Location: San Diego, CA
- Tuition: $913 per credit
- Time to Completion: 33 months
- Accreditation: COAMFTE
Mental Health Counselors
Mental health counselors help individuals, families, and couples achieve better behavioral, emotional, and mental health. They work with individuals, couples, and/or families, with a focus on self-empowerment. Mental health counselors may choose to specialize in a particular demographic, or in a particular mental health issue.
Mental health counselors will need a graduate degree in mental health counseling or a related field. Attending a program accredited nationally by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) is the easiest way to meet state coursework, internship, and practicum requirements.
Northwestern University offers an online master of arts in counseling program that trains graduates to be effective, multiculturally-minded mental health counselors. The program can be taken in a standard format, for those who have undergraduate degrees in psychology or a related field, or in a bridge format, which helps students transition from nontraditional backgrounds.
The standard curriculum includes courses such as theories of counseling and psychotherapy; and psychopathology in counseling. Students may also choose to emphasize in child and adolescent counseling. While instruction takes place online, students will need to complete a practicum and an internship totaling 800 hours in their home community; they’ll also need to attend two on-campus immersions in Chicago, where they will receive in-depth training and bond with their cohort. The program consists of 24 graduate-level courses.
- Location: Evanston, IL
- Tuition: $120,120 total
- Time to Completion: 18 to 36 months
- Accreditation: CACREP
Nurse practitioners are medical experts who provide primary and specialty care to patients. They are trained to work collaboratively and bring a holistic, patient-centered approach to care. Nurse practitioners can specialize in several different areas, such as pediatrics, psychiatry, and adult-gerontology; the majority of nurse practitioners specialize in family care or primary care.
Nurse practitioners will need a master of science in nursing (MSN) at a minimum, but it’s becoming standard practice for them to complete a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) instead of an MSN. Nurse practitioners will need to be licensed in the state where they practice. Attending a program accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) is the easiest way to meet state coursework, internship, and practicum requirements.
Baylor University offers an online DNP program with a focus in family care. Courses cover topics such as pathophysiology; informatics; pharmacology; healthcare policy; epidemiology; and nursing leadership.
The coursework is largely online but does include some on-campus immersions. In addition to the core curriculum, the university will help students locate clinical sites for clinical rotations. The program consists of 75 credits.
- Location: Baylor, TX
- Tuition: $1,100 per credit
- Time to Completion: 40 months
- Accreditation: CCNE
Physicians diagnose and treat a wide range of illnesses and injuries. They are the most educated of all healthcare professionals and are experts in human physiology. Physicians can specialize in one of several different areas, from surgery to radiology to orthopedics. Generally speaking, the majority of physicians working in integrated behavioral health settings will be focused in primary care and family medicine.
Physicians will need to complete a bachelor’s degree, medical school (MD or DO), and a four-year residency. They’ll also need to be licensed in the state in which they practice. While there are no accredited online medical schools, it may be possible to complete one’s undergraduate education online. There is no strict requirement for a physician’s undergraduate major of study, but those with a large selection of biology, chemistry, and math courses are advisable.
The University of Arizona offers an online bachelor of science in biology degree that’s ranked as one of the best in the nation by US News & World Report. Students may choose to emphasize their degree in either biomedical sciences or organismal biology.
The curriculum includes classes such as biology; ecology; genetics; and foundations in biochemistry. While the majority of the program may be completed online, students will need to attend two on-campus organic chemistry labs, each lasting 3.5 days. The program consists of 120 credits.
- Location: Tucson, AZ
- Tuition: $525 per credit
- Time to Completion: Four years
- Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
Psychiatrists are medical professionals focused on the treatment of mental health disorders. While they are expertly trained in psychotherapy, they will also use an understanding of biology and pharmacology to treat a patient’s conditions.
Psychiatrists will need to complete a bachelor’s degree, medical school (MD or DO), and a four-year residency program. They’ll also need to be licensed in the state in which they practice. While there are no accredited online medical programs, it may be possible to complete one’s undergraduate education online.
Psychiatrists may complete their undergraduate degree in any major, but one focused on the biological sciences or psychology is ideal for medical school applications. If their undergraduate program does not include a significant portion of biology, chemistry, and math, students may choose to do a post-baccalaureate certificate program before applying to medical school.
Ohio University offers an online bachelor of science degree in psychology that gives graduates a strong foundational knowledge of psychology topics. Core classes include statistics for behavioral health sciences; research methods in psychology; physiological psychology; and abnormal psychology. Students in Ohio may also connect with the university’s resources for internship opportunities. The program consists of between 121 and 123 credits, depending on elective choices.
- Location: Athens, OH
- Tuition: $243 per credit
- Time to Completion: Four years
- Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
Psychologists assess, diagnose, and treat cognitive, behavioral, and emotional issues in patients. They may help patients with both acute and chronic conditions; in some states, they may prescribe certain medications. While some psychologists choose to work in academia or research, those in integrated behavioral health settings will generally work in a clinical capacity.
Psychologists working in clinical settings will need to complete both a bachelor’s degree and a PsyD degree; a master’s degree may be required as well. They’ll also need to be licensed by the state in which they practice. Attending a program accredited nationally by the American Psychological Association’s Commission on Accreditation (APA-CoA) is the easiest way to meet state coursework, internship, and practicum requirements. Currently, no online PsyD programs are accredited by the APA, but reputable programs still base their curriculums off APA standards.
California Southern University offers an online PsyD program that meets the educational requirements for licensure as a clinical psychologist in California.
In addition to the required core courses, students may take electives in areas such as advanced physiology and pharmacology of addiction; applied sport psychology; advanced human sexuality; and the theory and practice of hypnosis. Students will also complete a doctoral project, an internship, and a comprehensive examination. The program consists of 66 credits.
- Location: Costa Mesa, CA
- Tuition: $545 per credit
- Time to Completion: Four to five years
- Accreditation: WASC
Social Workers & Clinical Social Workers
Social workers help people prevent, manage, and cope with problems in their lives; clinical social workers do the same but are also qualified to diagnose and treat emotional, behavioral, and mental health issues. Both social workers and clinical social workers often act as referrals and connectors between other behavioral health, medical health, and community resources.
Social workers need at least a bachelor’s degree, and a master’s degree is increasingly common. Clinical social workers will need a master’s degree. Both social workers and clinical social workers will need to be licensed by the state in which they practice. Attending a program accredited nationally by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is the easiest way to meet state coursework, internship, and practicum requirements.
The University of Central Florida offers an online master of social work (MSW) program that addresses national health, global health, and the mental health challenges that impact individuals, families, and communities. Applicants who have already completed a bachelor of social work (BSW) may take part in the accelerated track, and those with no social work background will take the traditional track.
Courses include topics such as diverse client populations; clinical social work practice with LGBTQ+; and practice with families. Students in the accelerated track will complete 600 hours of field work, while the traditional track student will complete 1,000 hours of field work. The program consists of 32 credits for the accelerated program and 62 credits for the traditional program.
- Location: Orlando, FL
- Tuition: $487.45 per credit
- Time to Completion: 18 to 36 months
- Accreditation: CSWE
Substance Abuse Counselors
Substance abuse counselors help diagnose, treat, and manage substance abuse disorders. Working with both individuals and groups, and in both crisis and non-crisis settings, they counsel patients at every stage of the substance abuse cycle. Modern substance abuse counseling is focused on treating addiction as a disease or disorder, rather than purely a choice.
Substance abuse counselors will need at least a bachelor’s degree, but a master’s degree is becoming increasingly common. Substance abuse counselors must also be licensed in the state in which they practice. Attending a program accredited nationally by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) is the easiest way to meet state coursework, internship, and practicum requirements.
The University of the Cumberlands offers an online master’s in addiction counseling that prepares students to become licensed as substance abuse counselors. As a Christian institution, the university strives to instill empathy and service in its counseling students.
In addition to the core curriculum, addiction counseling specialization courses cover topics such as psychopharmacology and addictions; motivation and change; family therapy in addiction treatment; and spirituality and values in counseling. Students will also complete a 100-hour counseling practicum and two 300-hour counseling internships. The program consists of 60 credits.
- Location: Williamsburg, KY
- Tuition: $400 per credit
- Time to Completion: 36 months
- Accreditation: CACREP
Support Staff & Administrators
Integrated behavioral health centers can also employ a broad spectrum of support staff, administrators, and paraprofessionals. This may include patient navigators and health educators; healthcare administrators and front desk staff; and policy analysts and community health workers. Each of these titles is distinct, but there are commonalities in education.
Support staff in integrated behavioral health careers may benefit from a degree in healthcare administration. Those who wish to advance into leadership roles may also complete graduate-level degrees in healthcare administration. While it’s not a requirement for support staff to be licensed, some may choose to pursue professional certification. When choosing educational programs, support staff in integrated behavioral health careers should look for alignment with the standards of the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME) and/or the Association of University Programs in Health Administration (AUPHA).
Southern New Hampshire University offers an online bachelor of science in healthcare administration degree where students learn how to lead in healthcare organizations and make decisions that positively impact patient outcomes.
The curriculum is aligned with the AUPHA and accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE). Students can also add a concentration in either health information management or patient safety and quality. The program consists of 120 credits.
- Location: Manchester, NH
- Tuition: $320 per credit
- Time to Completion: Four years
- Accreditation: NECHE