What is a PsyD in Behavioral Health Leadership Degree?

It’s no secret that mental health appears to be declining in America. As Bloomberg reports, “While material well-being has improved, America’s emotional distress has climbed to crisis levels.” We have more suicides, the drug epidemic is soaring, our jails are full, and many people are experiencing levels of isolation, loneliness and despair that challenge the assertion that America has improved life at all.

That isn’t to say that things are hopeless. In fact, the emerging field of behavioral health leadership shows great promise in addressing many of these problems at the highest levels of society. Organizational leaders and managers have the ability to change community outcomes, corporate conditions and individual realities in ways that will better people and society as a whole.

Do you wish you could be a part of that solution? Then it might be time to step up with a Doctor of Psychology in Behavioral Health Leadership. Here’s what that looks like.

What Is Behavioral Health Leadership?

The basic idea behind behavioral health leadership is that mental health stress from high-risk occupations and other emotionally impactful roles can be mitigated if the leaders in those fields take the right approaches to management and leadership.

In one example, “US soldiers deployed to Afghanistan rated leaders on behaviors promoting management of combat operational stress. When soldiers rated their leaders high on these behaviors, soldiers also reported better mental health and feeling more comfortable with the idea of seeking mental health treatment … Operational stress leader behaviors also moderated the relationship between combat exposure and soldier health. Domain-specific leadership offers an important step in identifying measures to moderate the impact of high-risk occupations on employee health.”

Put differently, behavioral health leadership is a field that aims to normalize the need for mental health treatment and to create a climate in which those in high-risk or stressful occupations can seek help when needed.

More generally, behavioral health leadership addresses the mental health needs of people in a wide variety of communities. The mission statement of the Behavioral Health Leadership Institute, for instance, is to “improve the delivery of mental health/substance use disorder services by bridging the gap between community needs, responsive service delivery, workforce development and research.”

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What Does a Behavioral Health Leader Do?

Behavioral health leaders perform a variety of different tasks and functions. Depending on your focus area, the community in which you work, the type of organization that employs you, and your particular skills and abilities, you may take on any of the following responsibilities:

  • Assess and monitor the mental health of populations such as soldiers, drug addicts, parolees or a neighborhood community
  • Create solutions tailored toward the needs of that particular population, then track how well administering those solutions works
  • Evaluate the delivery of existing psychological programs in that population or community
  • Prepare, carry out and analyze studies that can point to trends and issues that need solving
  • Develop critical leadership skills that can help with the delivery of proper mental care in a variety of settings, from hospitals to the field to the battlefield
  • Help teach those leadership skills to stakeholders, managers and executives, so they can then teach them to others in the setting
  • Help create policy that impacts mental health delivery in a variety of settings
  • Understand and inform the ethical foundations of behavioral health leadership and mental health delivery as a whole to ensure that people are served in an equal and just manner

Of course, these are just a few of the skills that you as a behavioral health leader would possess, and these are only a sampling of the duties you might fulfill by using those skills. Now let’s turn our attention to the degree itself.

What Is a Behavioral Health Leadership PsyD?

First, note that a PsyD is different from a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy). While both are terminal degrees, which means that they’re the highest possible degree level, they have different aims. The philosophy doctorate is meant for those who want to go into more academic and theoretical fields. With a PhD in psychology, you will learn a lot about the foundations of the discipline in order to teach them and design studies.

With a PsyD, on the other hand, you will be trained to work directly with people who need help as well as create living programs that can be instituted right away. It prepares you to become a leader of mental health departments in organizations yourself, whether that means a corporate environment, a nonprofit or a governmental role. You can also start your own organization, in which you bring mental health training into settings such as hospitals, social services organizations, community clinics or companies.

First, though, you have to get the degree.

How Do You Get a PsyD in Behavioral Health Leadership?

You must apply to and be admitted to a behavioral health leadership doctoral program. The path you take to graduation will look different for you depending on the individual factors of your life. As Walden University, points out “Time to completion and cost are not estimates of individual experience and will vary based on individual factors applicable to the student.”

These factors may include “tuition and fee increases; transfer credits accepted by Walden; program or specialization changes; unsuccessful course completion; credit load per term; part-time vs. full-time enrollment; writing, research, and editing skills; use of external data for the doctoral study/dissertation; and individual progress in the program.”

The program usually takes around 4 years.

What Are the Exams and Licensing Like?

Behavioral health leadership programs, while they give you a strong foundational understanding of the field and the tools to use it in clinical, corporate and nonprofit settings, do not help you with exams and licensing. You need both of these to practice, however, so it behooves you to understand the requirements there beforehand.

In order to get your license, you must first pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP), which is what all states use for testing psychologists. If you have already taken this exam and your license is current, you may not need to take it again. Instead, you can go into your new role without further examination.

Getting licensed for a role in psychology requires that you have the right number of clinical hours, that you have taken and passed the exam, and that you complete further supervised hours afterward. The American Psychological Association gives a further breakdown here.

How Is the Job Outlook?

While the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not provide specific statistics on behavioral health leader salaries and job opportunities, it does offer information on similar roles that you might take on with this PsyD. For instance, Mental Health and Services Managers can expect to make $99,730 per year, which translates to $47.95 per hour. Note that it is possible to achieve this role and salary with only a bachelor’s degree, which means that going in with a doctorate is almost certain to yield a much higher potential salary. Even better, this role is growing at a rate of 20 percent, which is much faster than average. You won’t have any trouble finding a position upon graduation.

Social and Community Service Managers also make good money, though again, this role is available even with only a bachelor’s degree. As such, you can expect to make significantly more than the median pay of $65,320 per year or $31.41 per hour. With a projected job growth rate of 18 percent between 2016 and 2026, you can expect to find a job without too much trouble upon graduation.

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Further Resources for Candidates in Behavioral Health Leadership

Getting a Doctor of Psychology in Behavioral Health Leadership is not an easy road. You can expect to be in school for anywhere from 3 to 5 years. During that time, you will have to take on a number of clinical roles, write mountains of essays as well as a dissertation, participate in studies and work out in the community to build experience. For that reason, you need all the resources you can get. Here are a few of the best:

You will doubtless find others to which to turn while completing your program, but these resources are an excellent place to start. Now that you have them in hand, as well as a firm understanding of this discipline and this degree, it’s time to apply. Best of luck!