Job Profile: Behavioral Health Director

Statistics from the CDC show that nearly 25 percent of U.S. adults has a mental illness. America spends over $300 billion each year funding mental health programs to help these individuals cope with their conditions. Coordinating the day-to-day operations of mental health agencies is a tough job left to behavioral health directors. As upper-level management executives, behavioral health directors play a pivotal role in making critical decisions for running mental health programs smoothly. It’s their duty to supervise all social service and healthcare staff tasked with helping clients deal with mental health or substance abuse problems. Directors wear many hats in juggling the financial, legal, human resources, marketing, technology, and clinical aspects of their agencies.

Salary

According to survey data on Salary.com, the median yearly salary for behavioral health directors in the United States is currently $107,865. This is equivalent to a mean hourly wage of $52 or weekly income of $2,074. With bonuses, social security, pensions, insurance, and time off included, it’s estimated that behavioral health directors earn $148,883 on average annually.

Beginning Salary

When first being promoted to behavioral health director, you’ll likely land in the bottom 10th percentile of earnings with a still decent salary around $78,024. However, behavioral health directors in large facilities with years of experience and senior responsibilities can eventually bring home a base salary upwards of $139,783.

Key Responsibilities

Behavioral health directors have the primary responsibility of developing, planning, and supervising mental health services to improve quality of life for mentally ill patients. Directors represent their agency by answering any questions posed by patients, families, staff, government officials, or the greater public. On a typical day, behavioral health directors can be found hiring new staff, coordinating work schedules, supervising clinicians, overseeing the annual budget, applying for grant funding, evaluating staff performance, or providing workshop training. Behavioral health directors often participate in conferences and board meetings to ensure their mental health agency is abiding by the latest state or federal regulations.

Necessary Skills

Being a behavioral health director requires a high level of clinical knowledge for understanding what patients with depression, anxiety, addiction, bipolar, schizophrenia, or other disorders need from their treatment. Behavioral health directors must be skilled communicators with the interpersonal skills to constantly supervise diverse staff members. Managerial, team-building, critical thinking, and decision-making skills are a must. Behavioral health directors should have the analytical skills for interpreting health regulations and applying them in new protocols. Organization skills with a keen eye for detail is important for directors to keep patient records, budgets, and schedules in perfect order. Behavioral health directors should also be compassionate, sympathetic, and ethical in their leadership.

Degree and Education Requirements

Finding a job as a behavioral health director typically requires that you hold a master’s degree from an accredited graduate school. Most aspiring directors start their career with an undergrad major in health science, psychology, social work, public health, counseling, or another behavioral health field. Then, it’s advantageous to receive a Master of Health Administration (MHA) or Healthcare MBA to build your managerial capacity. Pursuing a Master of Public Health (MPH) with a concentration in Social & Behavioral Health could also work. Going the extra step to receive a doctoral degree may provide a faster promotion track. Some behavioral health directors are licensed clinicians with a Ph.D., M.D., or Psy.D. degree.

Pros and Cons of the Position

Working as a behavioral health director will provide a range of advantages and drawbacks. On the positive side, directors hold a lucrative position in which a six-figure salary and excellent health benefits are expected. Job growth is projected over the next decade, so new positions will be opening in various mental health facilities. Behavioral health directors are given the intrinsic reward of coordinating programs that help the mentally ill find better health and happiness. It’s an ideal job for the extroverted who love interacting with and leading groups of healthcare professionals. On the other hand, behavioral health directors hold a stressful and demanding job that often goes beyond the 40-hour work week. Keeping mental health programs afloat with tight budget constraints can be overwhelming. Behavioral health directors also must invest significantly in their own education and licensing.

Getting Started

Building an impressive resume with relevant work experience is key for promotion. While earning your master’s degree, jump on every opportunity to immerse yourself in the business side of healthcare. Field practicum, internships, co-operatives, summer jobs, and administrative projects are great chances to get your feet wet. Most behavioral health directors need to have at least five years of experience in inpatient or outpatient treatment. It’s likely that you’ll have to begin working as a counselor or social worker to gain experience with emotional, mental, and substance abuse disorders. Then, start out at lower-level management positions to obtain your footing in administration. Pursuing professional certification can aid in promotion. For instance, you could become a Certified Behavioral Health Technician (CBHT) or Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor (CCMHC). Being licensed through your state’s Board of Behavioral Health Examiners could also be required.

Future Outlook

It’s predicted that demand for behavioral health directors will grow through 2024. With our nation’s aging baby boomer population, more older adults are requiring mental health services for Alzheimer’s and dementia. Illegal drug offenders are increasingly being sent to addiction treatment programs for rehab than to jail. Greater awareness and less stigma on mental illness is likely to drive greater demand for behavioral health services. That being said, growth will be tempered by government funding restraints. The BLS projects that employment of social service managers, including behavioral health directors, will grow by 10 percent for the next 10 years. Job prospects can be found at hospitals, residential facilities, outpatient clinics, drug rehabilitation centers, non-profit organizations, and other mental health agencies.

Although psychologists, counselors, social workers, and nurses actually deliver mental health services, behavioral health directors work diligently behind the scenes to keep the programs running without a hitch. Behavioral health directors may have a non-clinical, administrative job, but they’re still able to positively touch patients’ lives by coordinating quality care. Directors allocate the resources that keep mental health services accessible to those needing them most. If you work towards becoming a behavioral health director, you’ll have the opportunity to oversee mental health initiatives that help patients achieve and maintain good well-being.