The mental health field is rooted in the science and practices that lead to mental health. Mental health practitioners study mental health and how to best help others obtain it.
So why isn’t the mental health field the leader in how to treat its professionals?
Why is the mental health field rift with practices that damage the emotional, mental, energetic, physical, and financial wellbeing of its practitioners?
Some of the practices that come to mind:
Unpaid graduate internships. I had to provide 600 hours of free therapy in order to meet my internship requirements. Unpaid internships teach therapists that they must “sacrifice” in order to gain experience and advance in the field. It also creates a system reliant on privilege. People either rely on wealth to financially make it through this time or have to get student loans. Some also work during this time, which leads to crippling emotional and physical exhaustion. It leads to harmful mentalities in the field, such as Martyrdom Mentality and the Invisible Therapist Myth.
High client caseloads in therapy jobs. Many agencies require therapists to hold caseloads upwards of 40 clients.
High daily client hour requirements in therapy jobs. Most therapy positions require therapists to see 6-8 clients a day. This is extremely demanding, as I address the deleterious effects in my essay Life is Not the Same as a Therapist.
Agency pay is not commensurate with experience and responsibilities. Agency jobs pay around $40-65k. It does not match the level of education, amount of personal investment (paying for graduate school, unpaid internships, etc.) or demands of doing such a job.
Conferences providing no compensation for speakers. For example, the American Art Therapy Association provides an annual national conference. It does not compensate its speakers nor provide any discount for the conference. Speakers are still required to pay to attend the conference. I know because I’ve been a speaker and I will be one in fall 2022. Practices like this teach therapists that they need to “sacrifice” their own finances in order to “contribute” to the field of art therapy and possibly advance in their own career. Again, this reinforces Martyrdom Mentality, which espouses that we are “good” and “noble” for sacrificing ourselves for the good of others. It also renders our sacrifices invisible, contributing to the Invisible Therapist Myth.
Low pay for assistant professor positions. The pay for assistant professors is abysmally low. In graduate school, I had one professor who took months to grade my essays and didn’t provide any feedback on them. He even forgot to submit my final grade. Now, I understand why a little better. The pay is dismally low for the amount of effort required to provide quality instruction.
These are just some of the practices that do not align with fair and healthy treatment of professionals who are in the business of mental health.
I’m not interested in tearing apart our field. I want to name the practices that hold us back and deplete us so that we can stop them.
I want the mental health field to be leaders in how to properly treat its own professionals. This includes ample vacation time, leave for new and expecting parents (regardless of gender), childcare, EPA programs, higher pay, and more.
I want to see mental health agencies, organizations, and businesses setting the standard and inspiring other industries to do better.
I know most people will have one simple answer for why the mental health industry isn't there: money.
I think we are selling ourselves short if we solely blame money. We are intelligent, educated, creative, and caring people who can work around limited finances.
So why aren't we? My theory is that we're so overworked, burnt out, and under-resourced that no one has the energy to do that. Most therapists I know are just trying to make it through the day.
I want more for our field and its practitioners. It's why I'm writing this essay and write many more about the state of the mental health field.
Change begins with naming the things that harm and looking at what is possible.
We have the knowledge and heart to be the innovators in what is possible for creating work environments that contribute to the well-being of its practitioners and clients.
Thank you for reading. I help therapists escape the harmful cultural norms of the mental health field by building private practices that honor their needs.
You can learn more here.