Three Ways to Advance President Biden’s Mental Health Initiative
As a clinical psychologist by training and leader in higher education, in 2009 I founded TCS Education System, a nonprofit community of colleges and universities that empowers student success and community impact. Three of our colleges and universities are collectively educating a significant proportion of future behavioral and mental health professionals in the United States, which is why we have a particularly clear view about ways to overcome this challenge.
Expand the Pool of Licensed Mental Health Professionals
America faces a vast shortage of mental health professionals. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, an estimated 122 million Americans live in areas identified as lacking sufficient mental health professionals. This means that the job of diagnosing, treating, and managing mental health conditions too often falls to primary care physicians, already overburdened and ill-equipped to respond.
Creating a more direct path to mental health degrees and certification programs could help alleviate the shortage. For example, many states require mental health professionals to receive a master’s or doctoral degree and be licensed in the state they wish to practice. This process can result in long wait times for licenses in some states, preventing trained professionals from entering the workforce.
Saybrook University, a TCS university, offers a flexible, three-year hybrid online master’s program enabling students to complete their degrees without relocating from their communities and enables them to qualify for licensure in the state where they wish to practice. These students become scholar-practitioners who are culturally competent and well-equipped to address the needs of the whole patient, rather than simply treating symptoms. They are able to apply their knowledge to solve problems and foster social transformation.
Train More Diverse Behavioral and Mental Health Professionals
The Biden Administration also has a unique opportunity to address the critical shortage of diverse behavioral and mental health professionals. It is important to recognize that millions of students pursuing behavioral and mental health degrees come from underrepresented communities, and therefore have a unique perspective in providing care and treatment to individuals with similar life experiences. When mental health professionals understand the unique issues and history faced by underserved populations, they can provide better treatment and overall health outcomes.
Pacific Oaks College, another TCS college, is a prime example of this concept in action. In addition to Pacific Oaks’ traditional Marriage and Family Therapy degree program, students can choose from specializations centered on addressing the unique needs of individuals and families within African American, Latinx and LGBTQIA+ communities. These culturally centered programs help students maintain a commitment to understanding their patients holistically through the prism of life experiences, culture, oppression, and social-political context.
Scholarships, or student loan repayment or forgiveness programs, are other ways to encourage greater numbers of diverse students to pursue careers in mental health. The designated $700 million for programs like the Minority Fellowship Program and the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training Program will expand the pool of underrepresented mental health professionals committed to practicing in rural and underserved communities.
TCS university The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, which each year educates more than 6,000 students in the fields of psychology, behavioral health sciences, and nursing, has a longstanding commitment to expanding the supply, diversity and cultural competency of the mental health workforce. In fact, almost two-thirds of their students identify as people from underrepresented backgrounds.
Expand Mental Health Care Access Through Technology
Expanding access through telemedicine and virtual medicine, especially in underserved inner city and rural communities, can also play a huge role in addressing the crisis. Allocating resources toward technology solutions that enable practitioners to engage and follow-up with patients in an efficient, cost-effective manner will be a significant step forward.
While many say the COVID-19 pandemic “advanced the use of teletherapy by a decade,” The Chicago School was already aware of the need for improved teletherapy for many years prior to the pandemic. The university offers programs that specifically train students to deliver care via telemedicine, building a needed pipeline of highly qualified care providers who can effectively engage with all patients, regardless of location or access to transportation. Training future mental health professionals on how to screen, document procedures, establish boundaries and confidentiality, and use a telehealth platform will have a significant and lasting beneficial effect on the communities they serve.
For years, TCS’ colleges and universities have been at the forefront of creating innovative educational models to prepare our nation’s students to become outstanding mental health professionals. While government support is essential to advancing solutions, we will also need systemic change among medical educators to successfully address the vast mental health needs of our communities.
By building more paths for students to enter the profession, optimizing the delivery of quality care, and improving accrediting processes for future professionals, America’s medical community and regulators can together turn the tide on our current mental health crisis. Such a holistic approach to 21st century medicine would be truly transformative and prove beneficial to our nation for generations to come.
Michael Horowitz, Ph.D., is the President and Founder of TCS Education System, an integrated, nonprofit system that works collaboratively to advance institutional sustainability, student success, and community impact. TCS is made up of The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Pacific Oaks College & Children’s School, Saybrook University, The Colleges of Law, the Kansas College of Osteopathic Medicine, and the System Office. In the TCS model, each university maintains their unique identity but also benefit from the larger network of support, a true “Community Solution.”