On Tuesday, mental health clinicians for Kaiser Permanente in Northern California went on strike. While Kaiser and the union representing the therapists appear to have reached agreement on wages, the sides remain in dispute on issues related to staffing, working conditions, and client access to care. Kaiser reps have responded by calling the strike itself “unethical.” They have said that union leaders were asking therapists to “walk away from people who need help.” Suggesting that your own employees are unethical when they are striking to force Kaiser to improve patient access to mental health care is, as they say, a choice. It’s one that would seem destined to only worsen Kaiser’s ability to recruit and retain therapists in the future.
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.
How much salary are you likely to make as a Psychologist, counselor, MFT, or social worker? Are salaries rising or falling relative to inflation? The following chart shows 13 years of therapist salary data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Despite what you may have heard, the passage of AB5 will not cause the sky to fall.
California’s independent contractor bill, Assembly Bill 5, was described in media reports as an effort to regulate the gig economy, more specifically Uber and Lyft drivers. It actually impacts many, many more workers than that. But it doesn’t change anything for master’s-level mental health professionals in the state. The change that matters for us happened more than a year ago, and most employers have already adapted to it.
Thousands of California mental health professionals working for Kaiser plan to begin an open-ended strike on June 11. They are protesting the company’s ongoing failure to staff up their mental health operations, resulting in Kaiser patients waiting several weeks between appointments. More than 700 stories of the human impacts of these wait times can be found at kaiserdontdeny.com.
I initially posted about Kaiser’s mental health labor force struggles late last year, when therapists staged a five-day walkout. Kaiser has told its workforce that they believe progress has been made since then on a new contract, but Kaiser’s NUHW workers have been working without a contract since September, and are clearly tired of waiting. The dispute hasn’t fundamentally changed since the December walkout. In April, NUHW workers staged a one-day work stoppage in Pasadena.
My original post, published December 12, 2018, follows:
On Monday, roughly 4,000 mental health professionals employed by Kaiser Permanente in California began a planned five-day strike. The therapists (and nurses, who also walked out in solidarity) say they are protesting the massive and continued failure on Kaiser’s part to provide adequate mental health care to its own patients.
This strike is, in some ways, like other strikes you’ve heard about. While the therapists are highlighting client care issues, Kaiser itself notes that those therapists also are demanding better pay and working conditions — common demands to strike over. But this strike is also deeply unusual in the mental health world. Even when therapists are in a union, strikes are very rare. For that reason, this strike is uniquely important.
From the time you were in graduate school, your instructors and supervisors have likely emphasized the importance of self-care. Burnout is a real risk in the world of counseling and psychotherapy, and you have to be able to take care of yourself in order to avoid it.
These messages come from a good place. But they ignore reality for many therapists, especially those early in their careers. And those messages often come with dangerous assumptions and a dark undercurrent: If you’re having a hard time, it’s your own fault.
In 2013, two former interns at publishing company Conde Nast filed suit demanding back wages and attorney fees. Their lawsuit came on the heels of two other successful lawsuits demanding that interns actually get paid for their work: A federal district court sided with the interns who sued Fox Searchlight Pictures, saying the interns should have been paid for their work on the film “Black Swan.” And the year before, Charlie Rose and his production company agreed to pay up to $250,000 to more than 150 former interns to settle a class-action suit.
I’ve recently been hearing clinicians voice concerns about artificial intelligence (AI) taking over therapy. Admittedly, I’ve had those same concerns myself from time to time. It makes sense. We are constantly bombarded with technological advancements that often seem like science fiction. It is becoming increasingly difficult to deny the impact that technology is having on the mental health field. And the technology seems to be getting more human-like every day.
At the most recent national conference for the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, there were multiple presentations about the intersection of technology and therapy. At one particular presentation, a number of emerging artificial intelligence applications were discussed. Some of the applications were promoted as potential replacements for therapists.
When you decide to become a therapist, it is important to consider your finances. You need a plan for how to make ends meet. Ben made the point in Saving Psychotherapy that our field is mostly comprised of wealthy people, in part because those are the people who can afford to take on the financial burden of grad school and the years of low income while working toward licensure. One of the main reasons people drop out of our field before licensure is that same financial burden.
Some of us are fortunate to be able to lower our cost of living by moving back in with family or having a spouse’s support to draw from. The rest of us aren’t so lucky. We need side income to make it through to graduation.