The Mental Health Industry – Open Hearted Folks Helping Minds in Need

by Christian Kaylor

August 13, 2019

In recent years, society has been learning that mental health can be just as important as physical health. Oregon has joined in this trend, evidenced by the strong growth in mental health care workers around the state. Hospitals, clinics, and residential facilities employ thousands of trained mental health workers to help people get better. These jobs often pay better than average wages, but they come with larger than average challenges along with the potential to make a positive difference in the lives of people in the community.

Mental health workers address a range of issues. Some are experts in treating depression, while others specialize in drug and alcohol addiction. Therapists might help with cognitive recovery after a stroke or talking through family and marriage issues. Mental health workers can be employed in schools, hospitals, residential facilities, or working out of an office building in private practice.

There is no defined mental health industry. However, mental health professionals are most frequently employed in five industries:

  • Offices of Mental Health Practitioners
  • Outpatient Mental Health and Substance Abuse Centers
  • Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Hospitals
  • Residential Intellectual and Developmental Disability, Mental Health, and Substance Abuse Facilities
  • Vocational Rehabilitation Services


The two best known mental health occupations are psychologists and psychiatrists. Psychiatrists are Medical Doctors with an MD degree (Doctor of Medicine). Psychologists typically need at least a graduate degree and often have a doctoral degree. There are about 300 psychiatrists working in Oregon and a little over 1,000 psychologists.

In addition to psychiatrists and psychologists there are more than 20,000 mental health workers in Oregon. These are counselors, therapists, and social workers. These mental health workers may specialize in medical rehabilitation, child behavior, substance abuse, or some combination of issues.

Some of these occupations, such as rehabilitation counselors and social workers, may require some post high school training without a four year-college degree, while some of these occupations typically require a master’s degree, such as marriage and family therapists.
Offices of Mental Health Practitioners

These are independent mental health practitioners primarily engaged in the diagnosis and treatment of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders or the diagnosis and treatment of individual or group social dysfunction brought about by such causes as mental illness, alcohol and substance abuse, physical and emotional trauma, or stress. Oregon had about 600 of these businesses in 2018. The vast majority of these have fewer than five employees, though a dozen of them have more than 50 employees. Employment growth in Oregon has been strong. The number of workers in offices of mental health practitioners has doubled since 2007 when there were just 1,765 employees.

Outpatient Mental Health and Substance Abuse Centers

An outpatient center provides services related to the diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders and alcohol and other substance abuse. These establishments generally treat patients who do not require inpatient treatment. They may provide counseling staff and information regarding a wide range of mental health and substance abuse issues and refer patients to more extensive treatment programs. These facilities are often referred to as clinics, such as detox clinics, mental health clinics, and substance abuse treatments centers. This is a small but rapidly growing industry in Oregon. Employment has doubled from just 1,258 employees in 2007 to 2,664 employees in 2018.

Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Hospitals

This industry comprises licensed psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals primarily engaged in providing diagnostic, medical treatment, and monitoring services for patients who suffer from mental illness or substance abuse disorders. The treatment often requires an extended stay in the hospital. These establishments maintain inpatient beds and provide patients with food services that meet their nutritional requirements. They have an organized staff of physicians and other medical staff to provide patient care services. Psychiatric, psychological, and social work services are available at the facility.

The Oregon State Hospital, in Salem, is by far the largest psychiatric hospital in Oregon. There are only a handful of these hospitals in Oregon including Junction City Recovery Center, the Grants Pass Sobering Center, and the Cedar Hills Hospital. Aside from the State Hospital, employment is fairly small in Oregon.

Residential Intellectual and Developmental Disability, Mental Health, and Substance Abuse Facilities

This industry comprises establishments primarily engaged in providing residential care and treatment for patients with developmental disabilities, mental health, and substance abuse illnesses. These establishments provide room, board, supervision, and counseling services. Although medical services may be available at these establishments, they are incidental to the counseling, mental rehabilitation, and support services offered.

This is the largest sector of the mental health care industry. Hundreds of these facilities exist in Oregon including: Serenity Lane, Volunteers of America, Central City Concern, and Trillium Family Services. In terms of employment, Oregon has seen strong growth from 9,156 in 2007 to 12,494 employees in 2018, an increase of 36 percent.

Vocational Rehabilitation Services

These are establishments primarily engaged in providing vocational rehabilitation services, such as job counseling, job training, and work experience, to the unemployed, persons with disabilities, and persons who have a job market disadvantage because of lack of education, job skill, or experience. Vocational rehabilitation job training facilities, sheltered workshops, and work experience centers help get folks with challenges into a good job.

There are about 200 of these firms in Oregon. Industry growth in this sector is relatively flat. While many of the staff have little to do with mental health work, often the clients are folks with a cognitive, mental health, or substance abuse issue requiring special training. In Oregon, Goodwill Industries is the best-known example, operating several vocational rehabilitation programs around the state.
Helping people learn to manage their mental health and emotions is some of the most important work in our society. The work is challenging. It involves one-on-one work with vulnerable people who are struggling with serious issues, including recovering from trauma, struggling with a compulsion, living with a chronic cognitive disability, or just trying to learn how to communicate with their family and co-workers. For the dedicated mental health workers, helping others is a big bonus far beyond the monthly paycheck.

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