Mental health is an important part of overall wellbeing, and it is essential to have access to qualified professionals who can provide the necessary care. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), professional social workers are the largest group of mental health service providers in the United States. Social workers often work in multidisciplinary teams with health and education professionals, providing a range of services from counseling to diagnosis and treatment. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in diagnosing, treating, and preventing mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders.
They use psychiatric medicine, physical exams, and laboratory tests to assess and treat their patients. Most mental health professions require at least a bachelor's degree, except for psychiatric nurses, and many require additional graduate education and certification. Psychologists focus on counseling and therapy for a variety of topics, from relationship problems to mental illness. The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) manages the National Health Services Corps, which offers loan or grant repayments to those providing health care services in underserved communities. In addition, HRSA will exempt J-1 visa holders from residency requirements who agree to provide medical care for three years in an area with a shortage of health professionals, encouraging foreign providers to address the needs of underserved areas.
The HRSA also manages the Behavioral Health Staff Education and Training Program, which provides training funds to colleges, universities, and training schools that prepare people for behavioral health jobs. The mission of SAMHSA is to lead public health and service delivery initiatives that promote mental health, prevent substance abuse, and provide treatment and support to promote recovery, while ensuring equitable access and better outcomes. To make it easier for behavioral health organizations to prepare to compete in this environment, SAMHSA created the BHBusiness Plus initiative, which works with hundreds of behavioral health providers across the country. Currently there are more than half a million people working in mental health roles such as psychiatry, psychology, counseling and therapy. Wyoming and Utah have the highest proportion of the population living in areas with mental health shortages, at 96.4% and 83.3%, respectively. An estimated 122 million Americans, or 37% of the population, lived in 5,833 areas with a shortage of mental health professionals as of March 31. The training of a mental health professional depends on their specific field as well as the state in which they practice.
We've put together the basic information you need to learn about the different types of mental health professionals so you can make an informed decision about your care.