Switching from Nursing to Mental Health and would appreciate guidance, thank you

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7+ Year Member
Nov 8, 2011
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My daughter, 30, was in nursing school when she was diagnosed with a serious illness. This caused her to drop out of school.

She is in recovery now and has decided, for various reasons, against continuing into nursing. She thus far has earned
an Associates degree in Science.
She is now very interested in social work and mental health counseling. She does however need to return to work or schooling in order to make the next steps in her life.
Can anyone suggest a counseling or social work path that would allow her some entry level work while she also trains? like an internship?
We understand that this would be "starting at the bottom".

Does the US Govt/ Dept of Veterans Affairs offer any kind of internship paths to counseling or social work?

Are there any basic level certifications that would allow her to work while she gets advanced training?

We are not knowledgeable in these areas and both researching as much as possible. Appreciate any advice! Thank you.


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Jan 23, 2018
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There really isn't much clinical work available before graduate school. Any internships you find at the BA level or below aren't doing any therapy work. Is she looking for opportunities to test out if she likes the field or does she want something to get her foot in the door? She can look for something at a crisis hotline. Thats about the closest people get in terms of clinical work outside of a grad program. If she wants something more streamlined in terms of education, some universities offer joint BSW/MSW and BA/MA programs in psych and mental health counseling. The first thing she should do is look into bachelors programs because you need a masters degree to become a clinical social worker or mental health counselor, so she needs to get the bachelor's first.


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Sep 8, 2015
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No, the VA/govmt does not offer paid internships while training at the master’s level per my understanding—although they have paid postdoctoral positions (positions you can apply to work and get paid while being supervised after completing your doctorate in clinical or counseling psychology. That is after 4-5 years unpaid training/clinical practice in the program).

The vast majority of graduate practice will be unpaid because trainees are a liability because they are inexperienced and require close supervision. What one can do part-time that is paid is to apply for mental health-related work that isn’t actual psychotherapy such as working at a crisis line call center, working as a “care counselor“/mental health tech/behavioral support worker at psychiatric residential treatment facilities or group homes (the title of these positions changes with region), working in some capacity with children who have autism spectrum disorder or developmental disabilities, etc. Pay won’t be great but the work is relevant to the field, at least. One route is also substance abuse counseling which requires a bachelor’s degree and additional certification/training, so I suppose one could be working as a substance abuse counselor while pursuing graduate work, but you’d have to look into requirements for that in your state.
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Jan 23, 2012
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Every VA is different, but there are quite a few that do offer paid internships at the master’s level. You might also hear it called a practicum. These are usually time limited, I.e. like a 6 month placement— not something she could do for the two years she was in the program.

Word of warning — the VA paid internships are extremely competitive. Suddenly everyone cares about vets because the pay after graduation is better than average and most internships don’t pay anything. Again, depending on school there maybe other paid internships available however. Most of my cohort worked as case managers somewhere. Or as servers...