Is There a Shortage of Mental Health Counselors In The US?

It takes a crisis like a mass shooting for the nation to discuss mental health issues. Truth be told, more and more people are seeking mental health care today than in the past. While it was a preserve of a few, Affordable Care Act (ACA) made it part of basic health care services, allowing professionals to get reimbursement from insurance. This has opened more avenues for mental health professionals. With increased demand for mental health services, it has come to light that there is a shortage of counselors with up to 50% of counties lacking even a single professional. The situation is worsened by a report by the National Institute of Mental Health that indicated that 18.5% of adults and 20% of children have or at some point had a debilitating mental health condition. This raises the need for more specialist professionals.

Services Offered By Mental Health Counselors
Mental health is a specialty beyond being a physician. They have a problem solving approach that does not involve the use of drugs. The therapy they provided is customized depending on the needs of a client. Some of the services you can expect from a mental health counselor include:

  • Assessment of the situation and diagnosis
  • Development of a treatment plan and review of the utilization plan
  • Therapy that is brief and oriented towards a specific solution
  • Psychotherapy
  • Prevention planning and psycho-education
  • Management of mental health crisis situations
  • Alcohol and substance abuse treatment programs

Part of the causes of shortage is the time it takes to complete classes and become a licensed counselor. You are required to take four years to earn your degree in psychology or counseling. This does not guarantee a license in almost all states. As such, you must upgrade to a Masters which takes you another two to three years. The good thing is that you can earn the degree and masters online while you still work. To become a fully fledged professional, you need and doctorate in counseling. This takes you another two to three years studying in campus or online.

To understand the shortage, it is good to look at situations in different work environments. In some cases, government intervention has ensured that there are enough mental health counselors. Other areas are covered by non-profit organizations, without which, residents or patients would be neglected. Only a few people can manage private consultants, leaving more people exposed. Here are areas where mental health counselors work and the levels of shortage.

Hospitals – they work mainly as grief counselors especially for families and friends. You will need a degree or a Masters in some cases. They also assist patients with psychological and behavioral issues. PhD holders act as supervisors.

Outpatient and Inpatient Detoxification Facilities- they serve the more than 23 million Americans struggling with drug use and abuse issues. In inpatient facilities, they are engaged 24 hours while outpatient facilities engage them only during the day.

  • Mental Health Agencies And Facilities – counselors hold group therapy sessions and one-on-one care to patients. Here, you have to be a specialist to handle the root cause of the mental illness. You may also be hired to assist with mental issues in the community as a community health worker. A degree will enable you fill such a position.
  • Residential Care Facilities – this is a facility for persons requiring continuous care on temporary basis. They include autistic children, youth at risk, and people with either mental or physical disability.
  • Half way houses – this act as transition centers for previous drug addicts who need to be rehabilitated back to society. Your role will be to guide them on assimilating back to society, families, school, work, etc. The facility could be court mandated, voluntary or related to mental health. To get this job, you must be licensed as a counselor.
  • Geriatric Related Facility – these are facilities for the elderly. They are run by the government, non-profit organizations or agencies. They include retirement homes, assisted living communities, hospitals and independent living communities, among others.
  • VA Medical Centers and Hospitals – there are over 1200 hospitals and medical centers for VA. Your duty will be to attend to veterans, their families and spouses. You attend to mental health issues like PTSD-Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anger management and general stress issues.
  • Other areas you could be deployed include prison and correctional facilities, retail business to improve customer relations and in the education system. You may also volunteer with organizations that deal with disasters or work as a career counselor. Private practice is an option where you have to build a brand.

While mental health professionals work in diverse areas, there are different categories with restrictions on the nature of patients you can handle and whether you can prescribe drugs.

Provide assessment and therapy but cannot prescribe medication

  • Clinical psychologists – provide diagnosis and therapy for individuals and groups. You need a doctoral degree and must be accredited.
  • School psychologist – specialist in handling children and teacher or staff issues in a school setting. Your duty is to maximize mental health in a learning setting.

Provide counseling and assessment (after specialized training) but cannot prescribe drugs.

  • Clinical social worker – work in hospitals as advocacy and case managers. They handle individuals and groups as well.
  • Professional licensed counselors – work individuals to provide individual and group therapy.
  • Mental health counselors – offer group and individual attention.
  • Nurse psychotherapist – the nurse must be trained and registered with extra training on mental health.
  • Peer specialists – mostly deal with substance abuse among friends. A few hours of training for sensitization purposes is all that is required.
  • Drug and substance abuse counselors
  • Pastor counselors
  • Family and marital therapists

All the above groups work within specialist environments. Some are professionals while others are volunteers.

Some health professionals do not provide therapy but can prescribe drugs

  • Psychiatrists – this is a medical doctor trained in diagnosis and treatment of emotional and mental health issues. There are child psychiatrists as well who may also deal with adolescents.

There are nurses who specialize in mental health issues who also take up the role of psychiatrists and may medicate if the need arises.

The need for mental health counselors is rising. However, to become a professional, there are different channels you can use. Consult a career specialist to provide directions on the best channel to becoming a mental health counselor.

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