Dewan: Exploring behavioral health careers
The Wellness Center at Oak Grove High School in the East Side Union High School District has a welcoming, calming presence. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

In an era where mental health awareness is steadily rising, the demand for skilled behavioral health professionals creates career opportunities.

The behavioral health sector encompasses a broad spectrum of services aimed at promoting mental well- being. It addresses substance abuse issues and supports individuals facing psychological challenges. The field intersects psychology, social work, counseling and psychiatry, offering diverse career paths for those interested in making a difference in people’s lives.

Currently, a range of programs and services aimed at addressing the mental health needs of children and adolescents are emerging. These initiatives recognize the interconnectedness of social, environmental and familial factors in shaping young people’s mental health and wellness. Efforts to expand access, and centering schools as places of wellness are removing the stigma that previously served as a barrier.

The Department of Health Care Access and Information administers health workforce programs. The Wellness Coach Scholarship Program (WCSP) aims to educate and train students to serve as Certified Wellness Coaches (CWC) in California. WCSP provides scholarships to students in associate or bachelor’s degree programs, qualifying them for certification in exchange for a 12-month CWC service obligation in California. Eligible applicants may receive up to $35,000.

The Wellness Coach profession is a new, certified position designed to help build a larger and more diverse behavioral health workforce in California with the training and supervision needed to engage directly with young people where they live, study and work.

Wellness Coaches will offer non-clinical services supporting children and youth behavioral health and well-being. Services could include wellness promotion and education, screening, care coordination, individual and group support and crisis referral to supplement and support existing behavioral health roles. Wellness Coaches will fill gaps in the behavioral health workforce and create a more representative workforce with whom youth can connect.

This new career represents a proactive,  strengths-based approach to mental health and well-being. Unlike traditional therapy models, which often focus on diagnosing and treating mental health disorders, wellness coaching emphasizes empowerment, self-discovery and goal setting. Through supportive guidance, skill-building exercises and personalized strategies, wellness coaches help individuals harness their innate strengths and resources to lead fulfilling and balanced lives. To learn more, visit

Locally, San Jose City College (SJCC) and the Behavioral Health Contractors Association (BHCA) of Santa Clara support this movement, empowering individuals to pursue meaningful careers that make a tangible difference in the lives of others.

This summer, from June 17 to August 9, SJCC and BHCA are offering an eight-week entry-level paid internship experience that will provide a comprehensive introduction to community behavioral health. Applicants must be at least 18-years-old. To learn more or apply, click here.

Whether you’re drawn to counseling, therapy, advocacy or research, the field of behavioral health offers numerous opportunities for personal and professional growth. By embracing education, collaboration and community engagement, we can build a brighter future where mental well-being is prioritized and everyone has access to the support they need to thrive.

San José Spotlight columnist Mary Ann Dewan is the superintendent of schools for Santa Clara County. She has more than 33 years of experience in the field of education. Her columns appear every third Monday of the month.

Comment Policy (updated 5/10/2023): Readers are required to log in through a social media or email platform to confirm authenticity. We reserve the right to delete comments or ban users who engage in personal attacks, hate speech, excess profanity or make verifiably false statements. Comments are moderated and approved by admin.

Leave a Reply