Is There a Shortage of Mental Health Professionals?

Mental health is important to all of us. Perhaps you or someone you know has struggled with mental health challenges, and you understand the importance of having access to experienced and caring mental health professionals. Unfortunately, there is a shortage of mental health professionals. As a result, many people are unable to access the essential support they require for anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and other issues.

The mental health professionals shortage is not a new problem, but it has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. This has led to a growing demand for mental health counselors, who are becoming increasingly overwhelmed with high caseloads. Along with increased wait times for appointments and strains on organizations’ resources, this is negatively impacting both individuals and society as a whole.

Read on to learn more about the mental health professionals shortage, including possible solutions and how you can make a difference by pursuing a career in mental health counseling.

Understanding the Mental Health Professionals Shortage

Simply put: A shortage of mental health professionals occurs when there are fewer professionals available than the demand for their services. This problem is prevalent worldwide, affecting developed and developing countries alike. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in every eight people—970 million people around the world—are living with a mental health disorder, with anxiety and depression being the most common.1 Despite this, many individuals and families do not receive the treatment they need because of the mental health professionals shortage.

Five reasons for the mental health professionals shortage

Is there a shortage of mental health professionals? Absolutely—but what’s causing it? Here are some of the key factors that are contributing to this issue:

  • Mental health awareness: As society becomes more accepting of mental health concerns, the demand for mental health counselors continues to grow as more people seek help.
  • An aging workforce: A growing number of mental health professionals are reaching retirement age without enough new professionals entering the field to take their place.
  • Underserved communities: Mental health services are often less available in rural and low-income areas, which creates an opportunity for mental health professionals to make a significant impact in these areas.
  • An evolving field: The field of mental health is ever-changing. As a result, more professionals with specialized training and education are needed in areas such as addiction, trauma, and diversity and inclusion.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic: According to the WHO, the global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25 percent in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic—leading to huge gaps in care for those who need it most.2

COVID-19 and Mental Health: A Two-fold Pandemic

As we just mentioned, the mental health professionals shortage was greatly amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation/CNN survey, 90 percent of adults in the United States said they believed there’s a mental health crisis in the wake of COVID-19.3

“The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated numerous social stressors that we know can increase the risk of both substance use and mental illness,” Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, told CNN.

Citing U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, the survey found that drug overdose deaths reached record levels in 2021 and suicide rates were back to a near record high after years of decline. In addition, mental-health-related visits to emergency rooms jumped 31 percent in 2020 among children aged 12–17 years.

Impact of the Mental Health Professionals Shortage

To alleviate the burden on those in need and on the organizations that provide services, it’s essential that we increase the number of trained mental health counselors. Here are a few examples of how the shortage of mental health professionals impacts individuals, communities, and the health care system:

  • Individuals seeking care face long waiting times and are often unable to access mental health services
  • Increased risk of worsened mental health conditions due to delayed or inadequate care
  • Strain on the mental health care system, leading to overcrowded emergency rooms and longer hospital stays
  • Increased health care costs due to repeated ER visits and longer stays in health care facilities
  • Reduced availability of specialized mental health services in certain geographic areas or communities
  • Stigmatization of mental health conditions due to limited access to quality care
  • Reduced productivity due to the negative impact of mental health issues on the workforce

The Rising Demand for Mental Health Counselors

Now that we’ve explored the impact of the mental health professionals shortage, let’s take a look a closer look at mental health counseling careers. Mental health counselors work with individuals of all ages and backgrounds, providing support, guidance, and treatment in a wide range of settings.

Additionally, mental health counseling is an exciting and rewarding career that offers many opportunities for personal and professional growth. With a projected job growth of 22 percent over the next decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,4 mental health counseling is a great career choice for those interested in making a positive impact on people’s lives.

What do mental health counselors do?

The current demand for mental health counselors is a pressing issue, as it reflects the unmet needs of numerous individuals, families, and groups. These counselors’ diverse responsibilities involve helping clients cope with various mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and trauma. Mental health counselors are also responsible for:

  • Conducting assessments and developing treatment plans: Counselors use a variety of tools to assess clients’ mental health and develop individualized treatment plans tailored to their specific needs.
  • Providing therapy: Mental health counselors offer different types of therapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, group therapy, and family therapy, to help clients overcome challenges.
  • Advocating for clients: Counselors serve as advocates for their clients by helping them access resources and services that promote their mental health and well-being.
  • Collaborating with health care colleagues: Counselors work with other health care professionals, including psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers, to provide comprehensive care to patients.
  • Conducting research: Many mental health counselors conduct research to advance the field of mental health and improve treatment outcomes for their clients.

Where do mental health counselors work?

Mental health counseling is a rewarding career with opportunities to work in a variety of settings. These areas—all of which are impacted by the mental health professionals shortage—include:

  • Private practices: Many mental health counselors work in private practice, providing individual, group, and family therapy to clients.
  • Hospitals and clinics: Counselors work in hospitals and clinics alongside other health care professionals to provide mental health services to patients.
  • Schools and universities: Mental health counselors work in schools and universities, providing counseling and support services to students, faculty, and staff.
  • Nonprofit organizations: Mental health counselors for nonprofit organizations provide mental health services to low-income and underserved populations.
  • Government agencies: Counselors in government agencies at the local, state, and federal levels provide mental health services to the public.

What skills and education do mental health counselors need?

Mental health counselors are highly trained professionals who require specific skills and knowledge to provide effective care. Some of the necessary requirements for counselors include:

  • Education: A master’s degree in counseling or a related field is required to become a licensed mental health counselor. Coursework covers topics such as human development, counseling theories, ethics, and research methods.
  • Certificate and licensure: Counselors must obtain state certification and licensure to practice. This usually involves passing an exam and completing supervised clinical hours.
  • Empathy: Mental health counselors must be able to empathize with their clients and understand their experiences and feelings.
  • Communication: Counselors must be good listeners who are able to communicate clearly and effectively with clients, colleagues, and other health care professionals.
  • Problem-solving: Mental health counselors must be able to identify problems and develop treatment plans to help clients manage their mental health.

Meeting the Demand for Mental Health Counselors

“Illinois Tech thoroughly prepared me to provide integrative and strength-based counseling to individuals with diverse mental health and rehabilitation needs. Specifically, the rehabilitation graduate faculty supported me and encouraged me in many roles—as a student, staff, leader, and human. As the first woman in my family to graduate with a professional degree, it was an honor to do that at Illinois Tech among a diverse student population, many of whom could relate to my moral and cultural values.”

–Mehak Hafeez (REHC ’19)

Make a Difference in the Lives of Others With a Master’s in Clinical Counseling From Illinois Institute of Technology

If you’re interested in a career helping those facing mental health challenges, Illinois Institute of Technology’s M.S. in Clinical Counseling program might be the perfect fit for you. This program offers comprehensive, hands-on training to give you the knowledge and skills necessary to address the shortage of mental health professionals.

With our Clinical Mental Health Counseling track, you’ll learn how to support individuals with mental health and behavioral issues, including conducting research and completing relevant fieldwork—with a focus on providing services to diverse populations.

At Illinois Tech, you’ll expand your potential working alongside experienced mental health professionals to gain practical experience and develop sought-after skills. Your practicum and internship experiences will take place in a variety of settings, such as mental health and counseling centers, private practices, outpatient facilities, and substance abuse treatment facilities.

Our CACREP-accredited clinical counseling program offers more than just a distinctive education. As a student, you can take advantage of these additional benefits:

·      Our Chicago location, providing access to hundreds of networking opportunities, internships, and fieldwork experiences.

·      A high-value degree from an institution with a 92.8 percent career placement rate.

·      Our one-of-a-kind Elevate program, which offers real-world experiences to help you secure a strong career.

Discover how you can meet the demand for mental health counselors with Illinois Tech’s M.S. in Clinical Counseling.

Certification and licensure

As a graduate of the clinical counseling master’s program, you will be well-equipped to address the mental health professional shortage by becoming eligible for certification and licensure relevant to your specialization:

  • Students completing the Clinical Mental Health Counseling specialization are eligible to sit for the National Certified Counselor (NCC) exam through the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC).
  • Once you pass the NCC exam, you’ll be eligible to become a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in the state of Illinois. After working for a minimum of two years under the supervision of a qualified clinical supervisor, you’ll be eligible to become a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) in Illinois.