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.
Santa Barbara’s Community Counseling and Engagement Center is a popular and well-respected training site for prelicensed therapists. And they’re doing something I’ve never heard of any community agency doing: They charge prospective volunteers just to apply to work there.
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.
When the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF) started in 2007, mental health professionals all over the country expressed optimism and relief. Student debt is crushing younger mental health professionals — hear two stories, in their own words, here. The PSLF program promised those working in nonprofit agencies and in public service that if they just stuck it out for 10 years, the remainder of their direct student loans would be forgiven.
Any kind of mental health work is challenging, but nonprofit clinics and public systems are notoriously difficult to work in. They offer low pay, low-functioning clients, a ton of paperwork, and often, little support. It’s no wonder that many counties struggle to fill those jobs at all.
For those clinicians who experience the work as a calling, though, the PSLF program offered a lifeline. It would be a reward for staying put in positions that most therapists understandably leave. For those who otherwise faced a possible lifetime of debt, PSLF suggested a way out.
It’s not going well so far.
It sometimes seems like labor abuses are a rite of passage for prelicensed therapists. Recent graduates are often appalled by the unpaid or underpaid positions their colleagues (and sometimes they) willingly take simply to get their hours done. Many wonder whether they will be able to support their families as they progress to licensure.
Therapists also often talk about inadequate supervision, dangerous working conditions, unrealistic and inappropriate demands, and a variety of other serious labor concerns on the road to licensure. Some drop out of the field altogether.
If so many therapists experience labor abuses, then why do the problems persist?