How much does the average Psychologist, counselor, MFT, or social worker make? Are salaries rising or falling relative to inflation? Therapist salary data can tell us a lot about the overall health of the professions. I’ve gathered 15 years of therapist salary data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics to see what insights can be gained from it.
The figures in the chart below are adjusted for inflation and shown in 2021 dollars. On mobile devices, you’ll need to turn your device horizontal (landscape) to see the full chart.
Making meaning from therapist salary data
So, what can we learn from all of this? I published therapist salary data back in 2020 without much analysis, but I think there’s more to say this time around. Here are three lessons I take from this data.
1. The picture isn’t as rosy for Psychologists as it may appear. Psychologists didn’t actually get a big bump in 2021, despite what you see above. The increase in Psychologist salaries shown here reflects a change in how the BLS categorized Psychologists. In prior years, they had grouped clinical psychologists together with school psychologists. Starting in 2021, school psychologists (who generally make less) got their own category and were removed from the category used here.
2. The pandemic did not lead to immediate increases in mental health professionals’ salaries. Bear in mind that this data reflects BLS estimates for May of each listed year. It’s reasonable to expect that data gathered from 2020 forward would be unusually noisy. Even the 2021 estimates reflect a time that was still relatively early in the pandemic (at least compared to today, more than a year later). It may still be another year or two before we see lasting shifts (to whatever degree they have occurred) reflected in the salary data here. On a related subject, while it’s true that inflation was already becoming a monster toward the end of 2021, in May it had not yet crossed the 5% mark.
3. Mental health professionals, generally speaking, have not been gaining ground. Compare the 2021 numbers with 2007, when the chart starts. The master’s level professions are basically where they started, with the exception of social workers, who have gained about 12% relative to inflation. Psychologists gained about 5% from 2007 to 2020 (I’m leaving out the 2021 numbers here for the reasons described above). Counselors gained less than 4%. MFTs added less than 1%. It’s fair to say that, overall, we’re keeping up with inflation, but we’re not getting meaningfully ahead.
Use caution when interpreting this data. The BLS data is imperfect for reasons I’ve explained before. The professional categories used here are not perfect overlays for licensure. The counselor category changed in 2017 to combine mental health and substance abuse counselors into a single category, and the category for Psychologists changed in 2021 to separate out school psychologists. I used the inflation calculator at usinflationcalculator.com, which is based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Economists regularly debate whether this is the best measure of inflation in the general economy. I chose to use CPI here as it is a useful reflection of the consumer purchasing power of dollars over time.