The impact COVID-19 had on mental health globally cannot be underestimated. Even those who escaped the worst physical symptoms experienced prolonged periods of isolation. They were cut off from meeting their loved ones in person, prevented from traveling, and had to adapt to remote working. Thanks to successful vaccinations and treatments, the worst of the pandemic is now behind us, but its consequences are far-reaching.
An increasing need for help with our mental health
According to a recent report, there is a nationwide shortage of mental health professionals, and post-COVID, they are more in demand than ever. Some people are under additional stress because their livelihoods were affected by COVID-19, and they continue to experience financial hardship. Some have lost their job and are struggling to find employment. Many others have generalized feelings of anxiety which are linked to concerns about violence, crime and the political climate. To compound the issue, even before the pandemic, around 20% of Americans were experiencing problems with their mental health.
Where are mental health counselors needed?
People who are considering a career in this profession may wonder where mental health counselors work most of the time. There are many different career routes available, with a master’s degree in clinical mental health counselling. The program offered by the American International College runs online to accommodate any current commitments, although does include a placement to give you an experience of fieldwork. Once you have graduated, you could choose a post in any number of settings, including community health centers, mental health clinics, and private practices.
Is counseling a secure career?
The US Bureau of Labor and Statistics suggests that mental health and other counselors will be in high demand over the next ten years at least. Indeed, they predict that the “employment of … mental health counselors is projected to grow 22 percent from 2021 to 2031, much faster than the average for all occupations.” On average, 43,600 new posts in counseling will be available year on year to 2031. So, if you are ready to commit to earning the necessary credentials, you can be confident you will have many opportunities when it comes to securing a post.
Although digital companies have invested heavily in creating apps to help people with mental health issues, these do not address the key issue. We need more qualified people to offer therapy to those in need. Fortunately, this has been recognized at a federal level, and President Biden has announced a national strategy aimed at treating the crisis. The work began with the American Rescue Plan, which paved the way for more investment in the health system overall, along with better access to care and insurance.
Now the focus has shifted toward bringing more people into the field through better access to training and scholarships, as well as favorable loan repayment rates. Furthermore, the administration aims to protect these people when they enter the workforce. The Dr Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act is a bipartisan piece of legislation that will support front-line workers, such as therapists. It is hoped that this will help them avoid feelings of burnout and exhaustion, which can lead to people leaving the profession.
A significant lack of therapists
Gathering exact data on the number of therapists we currently have and the number we need is challenging. A glance at the Mental Health America’s Access to Care map reveals that the problem varies enormously between states. Some locations, such as Washington DC, have around one mental health provider for every 190 citizens, but in Pennsylvania, the ratio is closer to one provider for every 450 citizens. In fact, rural communities across the US tend to be underserved, and even when there are therapists, some are unavailable to people paying by insurance.
The problem of insurance
When they work in private practice, therapists can choose to accept patients who pay from their own funds. This has made the shortage even more severe for those who rely on insurance. Therapists prefer paying patients because when they work with insurance companies, there is a huge amount of paperwork to fill in before they can claim reimbursement, which is often limited. Moreover, the huge demand for mental health professionals means most people will pay from their pocket – so there is no need for therapists to work with insurance companies.
More residency training is needed
Although more training will not immediately solve the country’s mental health problem, it is a start. New residency slots are costly, but in 2021, Medicaid-supported places were made available for the first time in many years, and this assistance will continue until 2025. Building new programs is a massive undertaking for universities, especially as there are rules that each state sets out on regulations and accreditation. However, the good news is that as places are created, students step forward to fill them. In the past few years, there has been a 21% rise in mental health residencies, as well as more applications than ever.
Mental health counseling is a great career
People of all generations are drawn to mental health counseling as a career, in part because, as a nation, we are more open to speaking about the subject. Moreover, if you choose to train, you know you can help others to reach their full potential while enjoying a good work/life balance yourself. Counseling is a flexible job that enables you to work steady office hours if you wish or you can open your own practice and work when it suits you.
There is work still to be done
With its 2022 proposals, the Biden-Harris administration has designed long-term and short-term solutions to the significant lack of therapists. Although a problem of this complexity and size cannot be remedied quickly, a focus on training, caring for the carers, and investment in research are excellent starting points.