If you’re considering a career in mental health, there’s some good news on the economic front. After stagnation associated with the larger economy’s downturn, salaries in mental health professions appear to be back on the rise.According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, salaries are improving for all of the mental health professions except Psychology, which has been effectively flat since 2009. There are several cautionary notes that go with this data (more on those below), but if you’re considering a master’s degree in counseling, clinical social work, or family therapy, overall it’s promising:
Source data: Bureau of Labor Statistics Note that the y-axis there starts at $40k, so it’s a little misleading as to proportionality but shows year-over-year changes more clearly. The news seems to be especially good for MFTs in California (I’m one of them, so I’m incredibly biased on this): From 2012 to 2013, the mean annual wage for MFTs here went from $47,230 to $54,470. That’s an increase of more than 15% in just a year. As I said, some pesky cautionary notes: First, the BLS data assumes full-time work, calculating the average annual wage by multiplying the mean hourly wage by 2,080. There are benefits and drawbacks to that approach; it keeps the mean from being dragged down by part-time workers, but also arguably overestimates what the average worker actually makes, since many do work part-time. Second, there is significant state-by-state variability in the numbers. Even if the national means are improving, it can be worth checking to see what the trend is within your state. Third, especially in states with smaller populations of mental health professionals, it isn’t unusual to see big gains or drops in a year simply due to small sample sizes. Data for larger states is more reliable. Finally, the BLS data isn’t perfectly broken down by license; the data shown here uses the BLS categories of Mental Health Counselors (21-1014); Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists (19-3031); Marriage and Family Therapists (21-1013); and Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers (21-1023). These are the categories most focused on mental health services and thus the closest parallels to licensure. There should be a new data set for 2014 out within a couple of months; I’ll update this post once that data is available. # # # Your comments here are welcome. You can post them in the comments below, by email to ben[at]bencaldwell[dot]com, or on my Twitter feed.
Of course salary numbers in mental health look bad when you leave out people with the graduate degrees necessary to practice.NPR ran a story last month punctuated by a graph of the highest- and lowest-earning college majors. The worst on the list, by far, was Counseling Psychology. Those who majored in Counseling Psych brought in a median income of under $30,000 per year. No one gets into mental health care for the money, but the numbers were a black eye for the Counseling field — the American Counseling Association has even responded by commissioning its own study of salaries among its members. But there was a big problem with that original chart, one that the researchers themselves had noted but which was often ignored in discussions of their findings: It didn’t include people with graduate degrees. In just about any mental health field, you need at least a master’s degree to practice. Those who don’t take that extra step are often limited to very basic, entry-level jobs with little hope for advancement. So NPR is back this week with another chart, one that includes graduate-degree earners. And Counseling Psychology no longer shows up on the list of the 10 lowest-earning undergraduate majors. Counseling Psych majors get a big bump in median incomes when you include those who go on to advanced degrees, as should be expected. Notably, social work stayed in the bottom 10, even when those who get their graduate degrees are included. Their median incomes went from just under $40,000 a year (with graduate degree earners excluded) to about $45,000 a year (with graduate degree earners included). It’s hard to place family therapy here, since MFTs come from a wide variety of undergraduate majors, most commonly (but by no means exclusively) psychology or family studies. For MFT salary data, the best place to start is this Bureau of Labor Statistics page. # # # Your comments are welcome. You can post them in the comments below, by email to ben[at]bencaldwell[dot]com, or on my Twitter feed.
State differences in license requirements are small and serve no meaningful purpose. Considering mental health care as interstate commerce would improve access to care for those in need.
- A nation of licensure. In 2009, Montana became the 50th state to license MFTs and my great state of California became the 50th state to license counselors. This fact alone does not justify a single, national standard for licensure, but it is vital to the context of the discussion.
- Growth of telemedicine. The internet has hastened the development of remote services, but did not create it. Therapists have been working with clients by phone since the early days of psychotherapy. Today, through secure videoconference connections, a therapist in his or her office in a major city could easily work with clients anywhere in the world where the technological means exist for such a connection. The American Counseling Association’s Code of Ethics has outlined clear and specific guidelines for therapists providing services by phone or internet. While there is limited data on the effectiveness of technology-assisted therapy, for many people who are in rural communities, have specific language needs, or simply lack the means to go to a therapist’s office, the alternative to phone- or internet-based treatment is no treatment at all. This point is where the Constitutional argument would seem to shift: The internet can make psychotherapy a form of interstate commerce. Regulating interstate commerce is squarely within the federal government’s powers under the Commerce Clause.
It has been repeatedly well-documented that rural areas face a severe shortage of mental health providers. At the same time, early-career practitioners in mental health — often living in urban areas — regularly fret about whether they can make a living in their chosen fields. A national licensure standard would go a great distance toward easing both concerns.# # # Of course, I am a family therapist, not a constitutional lawyer. So I could be way, way off-base here in my reasoning when it comes to the law. If so, please say so in the comments! As the old quotation goes, I never learned anything from anyone who agreed with me. So send your disagreeable emails to ben[at]bencaldwell[dot]com, post in the comments below, or be pithy with a message to my Twitter feed.