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Mental Health Professional Shortage & The Track to Becoming a Licensed Counselor

mental health and group therapy counseling support meeting

Poor mental health is becoming an epidemic. One recent study found that more than 80% of adults experience at least one mental episode before midlife. Rates of overdose and death by suicide are rising, and the pandemic triggered a crisis in children’s mental health and well-being. The odds are good that you know someone who has struggled with their mental health.

What you may not realize is how difficult it is to get help. Ask anyone who has sought mental healthcare recently, and you’ll probably hear about long waits, difficulty accessing care, canceled appointments and high costs. If you care about people and want to make a difference, you can be part of the solution. Become a licensed counselor and put your empathy to good use. 

There’s currently a severe nationwide shortage of providers, and in Oklahoma, the situation is especially bad. This crisis presents some important opportunities: a chance to do good in your community by filling the void and a career with rapid projected growth and extraordinarily low unemployment. 

Here’s what you need to know about the mental health shortage and how it might affect your career trajectory. 

Make a difference in people’s lives and shape a legacy that can extend into the  next generation with our Master of Arts in Counseling Psycholog MACP program. →

The Mental Health Professional Shortage 

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects growth of 22% in the field of mental health between 2021 and 2031. That’s a massive growth curve that’s much larger than those of most other industries. Yet schools for mental health professionals aren’t graduating enough students to keep up with this demand. This means the mental health shortage could grow even worse, especially if mental illness rates continue to rise. 

More than 150 million people currently live in federally designated mental health professional shortage areas. 

The results are predictably depressing. Nationwide, people wait an average of five to six weeks to access care. Amid a mental health crisis, this long wait can threaten a person’s relationships, their professional prospects and even their life. In rural areas, wait times are even longer, and the number of fully qualified mental health professionals is even smaller. Importantly, not everyone is qualified to treat every issue. Children, uninsured and underinsured individuals and those with complex or specialized needs tend to wait even longer. 

This shortage affects everyone. Consider how a depressed manager might erode employee morale, or how a teacher struggling with complex grief may also struggle to support her students. A healthy society needs healthy members, but when people can’t access care, their health and well-being steadily worsen. 


Why the Shortage Isn’t Going Away 

When weighing career options, it can be tough to project how the state of things today is going to change in the future. Consider, for example, how travel agents once faced an amazing job market, or how successful rideshare drivers can suddenly see their fortunes turn if an app goes out of business or changes its policies. So if you want to become a licensed counselor, you may wonder if investing in a more empathetic, mental health-conscious future is really your best bet. 

The difficult truth is that the mental health shortage is not going away. In fact, it will likely get worse. There's no reason to believe the millions of people struggling with mental health issues will suddenly improve without treatment. Moreover, a number of widespread public health phenomena conspire to ensure an ongoing need for mental health care: 

  • People are facing increased social and economic pressure. Mental health always gets worse in economic downturns, and we are likely headed into a recession
  • We live in an increasingly complex and challenging world. Political polarization is stressful for many, and children have to navigate a digital world that their parents may be ill-equipped to help them understand. Public health experts are already sounding warning bells about the next potential pandemic. 
  • Decreased access to mental health care means that mental health issues become more serious before a person needs help. This causes them to need more resources for longer, further congesting the mental health system. 

There’s little to be happy about here, but if you’re someone who hopes to change the world, there’s a glimmer of hope. You can be on the front lines of the fight. Your empathy and compassion are assets that can truly change the world if you become a licensed counselor. 


Benefits of Becoming a Licensed Counselor

If you think a career as a professional counselor might be your next move, consider your ideal next chapter and how this career might fit into it. Some key benefits of this rewarding job include: 

  • Good pay. Your specific earnings depend on the role you occupy, but most counselors start with annual earnings between $55,000 and $60,000. 
  • Career flexibility. Counselors don’t just administer psychotherapy. They can also advise governments and schools, work in the nonprofit sector or even start their own businesses offering mental health technology or consulting. Some counselors become expert witnesses, sought-after speakers or writers. 
  • Work that matters. You’ll be making an immediate difference in the lives of your clients and working to make a dent in the mental health provider shortage. 

Of course, changing careers — or improving your career prospects in an industry you already love — can feel both exciting and scary. You may worry about how long it will take, how stressful it will be and whether it’s really worth it. SNU caters to busy working professionals with flexible, rigorous programs taught by experts in the field. And because we’re fully accredited, we help you meet your licensure requirements. 

Time is money. The faster you can graduate, the more time you have to earn a good living while doing good in the world. SNU offers rolling admissions, flexible start times and the chance to graduate in as few as 28 months so you can jump-start your dreams.  

A master’s degree in counseling is the necessary first step to a job as a therapist. Every state establishes its own counseling licensure requirements, but SNU’s program gives you the broad foundation you need to serve in a variety of roles. Learn about counseling licensure requirements by state. 

SNU’s master of counseling prepares you for a challenging world where people’s needs are immense. Learn what to expect from the program. If you’re ready to enroll but concerned about funding your education, check out our free e-book, “The Complete Guide to Financial Aid.”

Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology

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