Opinion: California Must Clear the Way for More Mental Health Professionals to Practice 

Photo by Drazen Zigic/iStock.

It’s no secret that the nation is suffering from a mental health crisis. At the same time, we have a vast shortage of therapists to meet the needs of those in our communities who are calling for help.  

One would naturally conclude that our governments, state agencies, and federal and private insurance companies would be doing everything possible to fill this essential shortage of therapists. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

As an administrator at a mental health practice in the Central Valley, I know firsthand how unnecessarily challenging it can be to find qualified professionals to meet the demand. 

Individuals studying to become licensed psychologists have a lot on their plates. They have to complete their educational requirements, work in a practice environment under the supervision of a licensed practitioner for a required number of hours, and then sit for the state exams. Anyone who has gone through this ritual knows that it can be a real grind. Yet, hopefully, after all this, the individual will have achieved the kind of preparation that will serve the community in a responsible and professional way.

In California, once psychology students have a master’s degree, they can apply to the state Board of Psychology to begin their 3,000 hours of supervision. Right away, the board notifies the applicant that the documents have been received.  But then the paperwork sits in a queue for about a month waiting to be reviewed.  The review determines whether all the required information is included. If not, the applicant is notified for additional information. Apparently, the application can sit for another month until reviewed again. If everything is in order, the due diligence process begins, and that can take another month or more. In other words, it can take three or more months just to get approved to begin being supervised. A solution? The board should staff up to meet the need.

There are only a small handful of insurance companies, including California’s low-income health program, Medi-Cal, that will pay for psychology intern work. Most of the big-name insurers, as well as Medicare, refuse to do so. This often limits the number of patients an intern can see. 

Keep in mind, many of these interns or psychological associates, as they are now called, have worked years in the field in other capacities, are doctoral candidates, or even have their doctorate degrees and are writing in-depth dissertations or case studies. These individuals, in many cases, have more education, training and experience than mid-level licensed individuals, such as a licensed clinical social worker and a marriage and family therapist, who insurance companies will pay for. We need to update these polices to meet the times.

Not only do these obstacles slow the process of bringing new therapists into the field, they also limit access to mental health care in the community. 

Writing letters to representatives and calling the psychological associations has been tantamount to howling into the wind. Meanwhile, you should hear the desperation in the voices of those who call every day and can’t find any help.  It can break your heart.

John Day holds a master’s degree in health care administration and serves as the administrator for the Woods Creek Psychological Group in Sonora.

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