The Affordable Care Act and Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act mean that more people with behavioral health conditions can get treatment. That’s great news, but one big problem remains: There just aren’t enough behavioral health professionals to provide services and supports.
SAMHSA is already working to address the workforce shortage through fellowships and other programs. However, much more needs to happen to meet our nation’s ever-increasing demand for behavioral health services.
SAMHSA plans to build on past successes by launching a new initiative focused on workforce development as part of its new strategic plan. Developed by SAMHSA’s leadership, with input from various stakeholders, Leading Change 2.0: Advancing the Behavioral Health of the Nation 2015-2018, will guide SAMHSA’s work for the next four years. The strategic plan will help SAMHSA set its budget and policy priorities, decide where to invest its resources, engage partners, and track its progress.
Working with federal partners such as the Health Resources and Services Administration, and professional associations and other stakeholders, SAMHSA has four main goals with the workforce initiative:
- Develop and disseminate workforce training and education tools and core competencies. One key element is to train both behavioral health and other types of practitioners to work in the growing number of settings in which behavioral health services are integrated with primary care services. Finding ways to recruit, train, and retain a culturally sensitive workforce prepared to serve an increasingly diverse nation is also crucial. This workforce includes preventionists, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, addictions and mental health counselors, marriage and family therapists, and other specialty behavioral health workers. It also includes practitioners in primary care, emergency care, health specialty care, and other settings where addressing behavioral health is critical.
- Increase the number of peer practitioners. We cannot just rely on behavioral health professionals. Peers can supplement what professionals do by engaging, supporting, and providing supportive services for those with behavioral health conditions. SAMHSA supports efforts to increase the number of peer practitioners, as well as to enhance the evidence base about what works best when it comes to peer and paraprofessional services.
- Develop ways to track behavioral health workforce needs. SAMHSA is working to develop consistent data collection methods and identify gaps. Programs are also in place to promote the behavioral health professions to students by providing them with training and financial assistance.
- Increase funding for the behavioral health workforce. The behavioral health workforce deserves to be compensated appropriately. SAMHSA is identifying barriers, exploring best funding practices, and working to improve reimbursement rates and pay incentives.
Building on existing efforts, these strategies will help ensure our nation has enough well-trained behavioral health specialists, health practitioners with understanding of behavioral health issues, and peer practitioners to treat mental illness and addiction, prevention substance abuse and mental disorders, and improve health throughout the country.