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.
Not everyone needs or will especially benefit from attending an accredited program. MFT programs that are not specifically accredited are still generally housed within accredited universities, making their degrees eligible for licensure. (More on that below.) But there are at least four areas where the benefits of program accreditation are likely to be significant for many students:
Student loan debt has been a regulartopic here, as it should be. Mental health professionals need to have graduate degrees, which often means taking on significant debt. The American Psychological Association reports that PsyD students in psychology now graduate with a median of $200,000 in student debtjust from their graduate studies. The federal government offers loan forgiveness for those who work in government and nonprofit organizations, through its Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.
Recently, there’s been some concern over the fate of that program. Therapists and counselors currently working in nonprofit settings wonder whether they will in fact be eligible — or whether the program will still exist — by the time they complete 10 years of service. But their concern is (at least so far) not supported by what’s actually been happening.
Stipend and loan reimbursement programs for family therapists, updated for 2012 with current links, updated amounts, and additional programs.
A number of state and federal programs offer tens of thousands of dollars in stipends and loan reimbursements for marriage and family therapists to advance their careers. Generally, these programs aim to help bring mental health services to underserved areas and to reward therapists who dedicate themselves to such communities. Here are just a few of the programs MFTs may find enriching.
The federal National Health Service Corps program offers a whopping $60,000 in loan reimbursement, on top of the salary one would already make in an eligible position, for two years of service. Continue working in an NHSC-eligible position over time, and you can get as much as $360,000 in loan reimbursement for 16 years of full-time service. NHSC-eligible jobs can be found at the NHSC Jobs web site.
Also on the federal level, the Indian Health Service (IHS; www.ihs.gov) offers a similar program, awarding $20,000 per year for two years of service at an IHS site. (A cautionary note: MFTs are legally recognized for employment within IHS, but appear to fall within “other professions as determined by need” in the loan repayment program.)
The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) / US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Minority Fellowship Program awards stipends to cover education, plus funding to conduct research and travel to conferences and trainings, to doctoral students in MFT programs. These awards can be worth tens of thousands of dollars and are renewable for multiple years.
In California, there are additional state-based stipend and loan reimbursement programs. The awards offered by each of these programs are in addition to the salary one would already earn in an eligible position.
The California State MFT Stipend Program provides awards of $18,500 per year to MFT Interns who agree to work in public mental health positions in underserved areas for at least one year. In 2010 and again in 2011, 60 of these stipends were awarded through the statewide MFT Consortium, which covers most of the state; Loma Linda University and CSU-Chico each administered a handful of additional stipends through the same state fund. For 2012, Alliant International University (where I teach) also is administering its own stipend program, awarding 15 stipends per year of $18,500 each, distributed across our four CFT campuses.
Finally, the state offers MFTs and MFT Interns its Mental Health Services Provider Education Program, which awards up to $15,000 in loan reimbursement for two years of service in an underserved area, and its Mental Health Loan Assumption Program, which offers $10,000 in loan reimbursement for a one-year commitment. Though these programs are both run by the same state agency, their separate amounts and selection processes are because their funding comes through two distinct streams (license renewal fees, and the Mental Health Services Act). They have different application forms and run on different deadline cycles. The next MHLAP deadline is in August; the next MHSPEP deadline is in September.
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To put in a plug for my program: Alliant students are eligible for our own stipend program, the county programs in San Diego and Los Angeles, and the state and federal programs. Some campuses are still accepting applications for fall 2012; more information is available here: Alliant Couple and Family Therapy programs.
Are you aware of other federal or state-based programs that should be added to this list? Email me at ben[at]bencaldwell[dot]com and let me know, and I’ll be happy to expand this post.