Every few years, I like to take a look at the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers for the mental health profession. The numbers discussed below come from the latest reports from the 2016-2017 time period.
Since I last looked at these numbers in 2011, the mental health profession workforce as a whole has grown about 4 percent. During the same time period, the United States population also grew about 3.5 percent.
Overall, this data suggests professionals are keeping up with the growth. However, demand for mental health services has increased as well, as more and more people begin to understand and seek treatment for mental health conditions.
The broad stroke numbers don’t tell the whole story. The interesting trends are in individual professions.
Digging into just clinical and counseling psychologists, we see our numbers have risen to 166,000 – an 8.4 increase from 2011. This increase is good for the profession as a whole, but perhaps more challenging for individual clinicians trying to compete with other psychologists in their neighborhood.
The trend of more psychologists is a good thing, and I hope to see this continue in the years to come.
Not all professions have kept up. Tellingly, psychiatry has suffered the most – mirroring what most clinicians experience in their day-to-day practice. There are only an estimated 25,250 psychiatrists in the U.S., a whopping 36 decrease from 2011.
The number of psychiatrists as a percentage of all physicians has declined to 3.5, from 5 percent in 2011. The trend is likely to get worse before it gets better, since both compensation and the medical school environment have changed little for this profession since 2011.
Psychiatry is not alone in suffering declines. Marriage and family therapists are losing numbers – down 37 percent in numbers from 2011.
Clinical social workers have also suffered a decline of 23 percent.
The helping professions as a career choice can be tough as it often makes demands on a person well outside the normal business hours of a 9-to-5 job. Beyond the odd hours, the paperwork and documentation burden, the low reimbursement rates from insurance companies, and the challenges in getting reimbursed, it’s a wonder the profession grows at all.
But psychology appears to be leading the way in growth of post-college-level professionals. Let’s hope we can continue to provide the extra level of care and services the public has come to expect of us.
By John Grohol, Psy.D.