31 May 2017

The Time Is Now to Talk Workforce Development

What can be done to attract and retain mental health professionals?

It doesn’t matter where you look in mental health service, there’s a critical shortage of providers. A recent study at Harvard University found of 900 phone calls made trying to get an appointment with a mental health counselor, just 17% were successful. Think about that – 153 calls found help, while 747 did not. And it’s not as if this shortage is anything new – Surgeon General David Satcher first sounded the alarm in 2000 when he said we have many techniques and tools to treat mental health, we just don’t have enough professionals.

And yet little has changed in the past 17 years. So, what can we do? Here are some solutions to attract and retain our mental health professionals:

1.    Because the shortage will be so acute in the next several years, scholarships are important along with loan forgiveness. We need to find a way to turn the heads of young people towards this field. Being able to avoid a mountain a debt when they complete their degree is a key step.

2.    We need to boost the pay. Substance abuse counselors earn about $40,000 a year. It’s not a living wage even for people who are highly motivated. The insurance carriers, along with the state and federal governments, need to do their part around improving the reimbursement so these people can make a living doing the work. The people in the field are highly dedicated and highly motivated – they are the saints of the earth – but 20% of them turn over every year partly because of the low pay.

3.    We need to provide continuing professional education and support for counselors to not only keep their skills sharp, but to keep them interested and engaged.


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