Behavioral health prevention specialists take a big-picture view of environmental and individual factors that impact the health and mental well-being of students. They use their expertise in mental health and behavioral analysis to analyze at-risk kids and to assist teachers, counselors, parents, and other healthcare professionals to set the stage for the best chance at an effective intervention, whether with an individual at-risk student or in an assembly that brings in the entire student body.
More broadly, BHP specialists look at larger environmental health issues that can affect kids. They often use their expertise in designing school or community programs to promote awareness of alcohol, tobacco, or other substance abuse risks, or to promote other social justice issues with a view toward preventing alienation, bullying, or mental health issues.
BHP specialists can find positions working in school districts or with other local or regional public health agencies. They may also find work with community service organizations and non-profits that focus on at-risk youth groups, such as in suicide prevention or outreach groups.
Traditional and Non-traditional Prevention Strategies Keep BHP Specialist Jobs Interesting
These outreach and assistance efforts can take on a wide variety of forms and formats, limited only by the resources of the agency you work for and your own imagination. The ability to connect with kids and internally model their motivations and thought processes can be critical, and unconventional and daring efforts can pay big dividends.
Small ideas that resonate with your target group of students can have positive results that go lightyears beyond what you may have ever even envisioned. Everyone in the field is familiar with the legendary story of activist Luis Garden Acosta, who brought together the apparently unrelated problems of youth gang violence and environmental health issues occurring in Brooklyn years ago in a way that inspired the formation of a youth group that redirected local gang members into environmental activism instead of street fights: The Toxic Avengers.
On the other hand, BHP specialists can also score wins by simply putting a lot of hard work into traditional and time-tested techniques: A 15-month public awareness campaign in Montana using radio, TV ads, posters, and billboards aimed at applying positive behavioral science to anti-drinking and driving messages resulted in a 15 percent increase in young adults using designated drivers in the state.
You’ll have to keep current with trends in the student body you work with and with larger societal trends that can impact them, things like the opioid epidemic, the #MeToo movement, and sometimes even crazier trends like the Tide Pod Challenge.
There’s no end of strange things that kids can get into that you’ll have to be prepared to address both seriously and compassionately in the course of the average day.
There’s Never a Dull Day When You’re a Behavior Health Prevention Specialist
A behavioral health prevention specialist can spend a lot of time on the road, moving between schools, community centers, or other sites in the course of conducting observations or performing presentations and interventions. They also may put a significant amount of time into collaborating and coordinating with other professionals and other agencies.
Those efforts can also involve planning and conducting trainings, both for other professionals and for kids in your target demographic. BHP specialists also conduct individual and group screenings to identify at-risk individuals, and have to be adept at identifying and making referrals to other professionals when issues arise outside their scope of practice.
Paperwork is also a significant part of the job. Both documenting observations and activities and laying out clear planning and coordinating documentation are important parts of the job to keep partners and stakeholders all on the same page.
If it sounds to you like becoming a BHPS is a rewarding, but challenging career, you’re right. And the path to get there also has some mountains to climb.
Getting the Right Education on the Path to Becoming a Behavioral Health Prevention Specialist
Behavioral health prevention specialist jobs frequently have a high educational bar for applicants to clear. At a minimum, you will need a bachelor’s degree in a related field, which can be in any number of areas:
- Social Work
- Applied Behavior Analysis
- School Counseling
- Mental Health Counseling
- Marriage and Family Therapy
But many positions require a master’s degree, also in those or closely related fields.
These degrees involve an intensive introduction to the socioeconomic, mental health, and developmental issues that can lead to behavioral health issues. They’ll cover the legal and ethical aspects of observing and assisting issues experiencing such issues, and will introduce you to the framework of American healthcare and social services that are tasked with handling these issues. They also provide you with the toolkit you need to help address these issues on both an individual and group basis.
You’ll need to select a school that has, at a minimum, been accredited by one of the major regional general accreditation bodies in the United States, but to ensure you’re getting the best possible education in one of the more specialized degrees, you will also want to look for programs that have been accredited by a specialized accrediting body in that field, such as CSWE (Council on Social Work Education).
For degrees in applied behavior analysis specifically, you’ll want to make sure you go with a program that incorporates the appropriate Verified Course Sequence from the BACB (Behavior Analysis Certification Board). You can only qualify for certification through the board if you’ve completed a VCS that aligns with the certification you’re interested in, whether the master’s-level BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) or the bachelor’s-level BCaBA (Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analysis).
Clear written and oral communication skills are an absolute must for BHP specialists. While any general liberal arts bachelor program will include some communication skills courses, a master’s program will take your basic skills and hone them to the standards required for the profession.
A master’s degree may also be required for state licensure or certification as some BHP specialist roles require.
Becoming Certified and Licensed to Work as a Behavioral Health Prevention Specialist
Many BHP specialist degrees require state licensure, most commonly as a licensed social worker (LSW or LISW), but sometimes as a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) or a licensed professional counselor (LPC). A CSWE-accredited master’s degree is often required, and most states rely on the ASWB (Association of Social Work Boards) examination in order to grant licensure.
Some states have their own specialized certification programs for behavioral health prevention work, such as the California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals’ (CCAPP) California Certified Prevention Specialist or the Rhode Island Prevention Specialist certification. Although these are not typically required for BHP specialist positions, they can add valuable and current professional knowledge of the role to your toolkit.
Although it’s not usually required for BHP specialist positions, earning a national certification in the Academy of Certified Social Workers (ACSW) as a social worker from the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) can boost your chances of landing a position.
Salary Expectations for Behavioral Health Prevention Specialists
There is a fairly wide range of salaries being paid to qualified behavioral health prevention specialists, driven by a number of different factors. Typically, positions with higher educational or licensure requirements will offer higher pay than those with only require a bachelor’s degree and minimal experience.
Location also plays a major role in BHP specialist salaries. Those working in heavily urbanized parts of the country with large and robust social service sectors can expect higher levels of pay than their counterparts elsewhere.
Like many specialized health services, behavioral health prevention in schools is transitioning in some places from a district-employed position to a role that is filled by contracted private agencies. Working as a behavioral health specialist for a private company can affect your pay level and benefits package versus the standard package for public school BHPS.
These are some examples of behavioral health prevention specialist positions around the country, including the employer, the pay range being offered, and the educational and licensure requirements for candidates:
- Arlington County, Arlington, VA – $55,931 – $85,488 per year – Bachelor degree or satisfactory experience
- Lake County School District, Leadville, CO – $46,000 – $52,000 per year – Master’s degree, school licensure strongly preferred
- Northwest Family Services, Multnomah County, OR – $18/$19/hr – Bachelor degree
- Center for Human Services, Seattle, WA – $20/hr – Associate’s degree
Many behavioral health prevention specialists also fall into the Bureau of Labor Statistics category of Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors. For 2018, the median pay for that role was $44,630 per year, or $21.46 per hour. But those working for government, including in schools, could expect $51,690 per year. In the top ten percent, $72,990 or more was typical.
It’s also a great time to be looking for a job as a behavioral health prevention specialist; the category is likely to expand, nationwide, at a rate of 22 percent, much faster than the average growth rate.
Salary and employment data compiled by the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics in May of 2018. Figures represent accumulated data for all areas of employment for Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors (https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/substance-abuse-behavioral-disorder-and-mental-health-counselors.htm). BLS salary data represents state and MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area) average and median earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
Individual job listings with educational requirements and salary information accessed directly from internet job boards and directly from the sites of employing agencies and do not constitute offers of employment.
All salary and job growth data accessed in October 2019.