How the Therapist Shortage Impacts Mental Health Agencies

Published on September 15, 2022
Written by Rachel McCrickard, LMFT

The United States is facing an escalating crisis due to a dramatic shortage of trained and licensed mental health professionals.

A 2017 review indicated that the shortage in the mental health field was more severe than any other specialty in healthcare at that time. Over the years – as more individuals sought out treatment for mental health disorders – this shortage became even more pronounced.

The arrival of COVID-19 only served to magnify one of the most enduring problems in the mental health industry. Although the pandemic exacerbated the situation, the therapist shortage is a prevailing issue in the industry. 

This shortage affects not only patients but also therapists and your mental health agency as a whole.

Fewer licensed therapists mean there are also fewer clinical supervisors who can help pre-licensed therapists take that next step in their careers. As a result, the shortage cycle continues. 

However, as more counseling and social work compacts are put into place, and other resources are created to guide more professionals into the field, there is hope that the clinician shortage has an end in sight.


Cause of the Current Crisis 

You’re bound to have a problem when supply is low, but demand is high. 

The mental health crisis has been getting worse over the years, for various reasons. But the unexpected pandemic has caused it to reach a critical point. And it’s a problem that needs to be addressed urgently.

Unfortunately, numerous factors contribute to the current crisis:

  1. Average age – most mental health professionals are in their 40s or 50sand will retire soon.
  2. Lack of replacements – there aren’t enough new therapists coming into the field to replace the retired and soon-to-be-retired professionals.
  3. Cost of education – the increasing cost of education required of mental health professionals creates another barrier for those interested in the field.
  4. Salary – low-paying salaries for high-stress jobs are enough to convince many not to enter the field.
  5. Training – many mental health professionals specialize in certain fields, which means not all therapists are able to work with all populations or all mental health conditions, which reduces availability even more.
  6. Insurance – for valid reasons (such as low reimbursement rates), many therapists don’t accept insurance, which puts them out of reach of patients who are unable to pay out of pocket.

What This Means for Mental Health Agencies 

According to GoodTherapy, over 115 million people in the United States live in areas with a significant therapist shortage. So it’s inevitable that your mental health organization will be affected. 

You’re likely experiencing an influx of patients while dealing with limited resources. Although this situation can speed up your agency’s growth, it doesn’t help if you can’t keep up with the demand. 

Here are some issues your mental health agency may be facing as a direct result of the therapist shortage:

  • A reduced number of licensed therapists limits your ability to take on new billable clients.
  • Not enough therapists with the right type of licensure to supervise pre-licensed professionals.
  • A fast-growing organization that isn’t able to meet the demand and needs to contract with pre-licensed therapists.
  • An inability to invest in the clinical development of your staff while also serving clients.
  • A negative impact on your bottom line, as licensed therapists receive higher reimbursement rates.

How COVID-19 Exacerbated the Problem 

While the clinician shortage was concerning pre-pandemic, COVID-19 has severely affected the industry.

The mental health crisis caused by the pandemic has taken its toll – from individuals needing support to mental health agencies attempting to keep up. Coinciding with the sudden rise in demand for therapy, many counselors became overwhelmed with work and experienced stress or burnout. Several other pain points arose as the pandemic dragged on:

  • Isolation and health concerns caused anxiety, depression, and stress.
  • Increased demand for therapy from existing patients.
  • Long waitlists for new patients who required therapy.
  • Heavier workloads but reduced income for professionals in the field.

The Future of the Industry

There’s no doubt about it: Mental health agencies need support to continue meeting their communities needs. We can’t allow individuals to slip through the cracks when it comes to mental health. The future of the population depends on our ability to provide adequate psychological care. Therefore, the mental health industry needs to adapt and find solutions to the problems currently causing the shortage of licensed professionals.

First, more focus should be placed on offering remote sessions via teletherapy to provide support to under-serviced populations, such as individuals in rural areas, those who can’t travel to on-site sessions, or those who are unable to take extended time off work. Although there are challenges associated with teletherapy, it allows therapists to serve more patients sustainably.

Second, the shortage cycle needs to end, which means addressing the problem at its source. The industry would be transformed for the better if there were:

  • More scholarships for mental health professionals
  • Higher salaries
  • Continued education opportunities
  • Clinical supervision support for pre-licensed therapists
  • Revised payment models for easier reimbursements

The Benefits of Partnering with Motivo

Here at Motivo, we’re acutely aware that the clinician shortage can be solved by getting more skilled professionals licensed and working in the field so that you can serve more clients. 

By partnering with us, you can:

  • Outsource the supervision of your pre-licensed therapists, so your licensed staff has more capacity to work with billable clients.
  • Offer clinical supervision to pre-licensed therapists and attract early career talent.
  • Focus on serving your existing and new clients while also providing educational opportunities for young professionals.
  • Reduce mileage reimbursements for travel.
  • Hire pre-licensed therapists to serve clients on long waiting lists without needing to provide internal supervision, which will increase your bottom line.

Contribute to the Solution

The clinician shortage may negatively affect your mental health agency, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be part of the solution. Help to brighten the future of the industry and benefit your organization and staff members by partnering with Motivo. Click here to learn more about how working with Motivo can help your organization today.

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