PA Governor's Mental Health Plan Overlooks Practitioners
Pennsylvania's new mental health plan doesn't mention important practitioners.
Posted Jan 05, 2020
On Thursday, Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf announced a new initiative intending to improve state-wide access to and reduced resident stigma surrounding mental health care. This plan, “Reach Out PA: Your Mental Health Matters,” includes seeking to ensure that insurance companies provide access to mental health care, proposed additional training for government-employed mental health workers, efforts to infuse trauma-focused mental health care in schools, and plans to provide pathways to increase the number of trained social workers in schools.
However, Wolf’s Reach Out PA plan does not identify ways that it will improve the abilities of mental health practitioners not under the purview of governmental agencies and schools to provide care to Pennsylvania’s residents. According to the 2015 American Psychological Association Survey of Psychology Health Service Providers, nearly half (44.8%) of American psychologists currently worked in private practice (American Psychological Association, 2016). And according to the Compensation Study conducted by the American Counseling Association in 2014, 20% of professional counselors worked in private practice. If private practitioners of therapeutic mental health care, including counselors, psychologists, social workers, mental health nurses, and psychiatrists are ignored during the planning and execution of this project, mental health care equity issues may further be amplified within the state.
The proposed plan accounts for an intent to increase the number of social workers at the school level. However, social workers are not necessarily trained in the diagnosis and individual treatment of mental health disorders and may receive training that looks different than that of a licensed counselor or psychologist. With the exception of the proposed provision that a full-time counselor be employed at every school district level, the counseling profession is not named in the proposal’s language. Psychologists are not named at all.
It’s important to point out that at this current time, the professional licenses which provide protections to clients and patients served by these differing mental health professionals do not fall under the same categorical umbrellas and are not provisioned in the same way. More importantly, related to the practice of counseling, psychology, social work, and psychiatry, respectively, these professionals cannot or are not equitably reimbursed by insurance companies, nor are they each approved to provide all modalities of mental health care and treatment.
If Governor Wolf’s new plan is going to benefit the mental health and wellness of residents of Pennsylvania, identified barriers to mental health care must include the empowerment of mental health practitioners of all stripes and training to provide diverse kinds of care to clients, including medication-assisted treatment, and the ability of mental health providers to seek equitable insurance company payments from Medicare and the military’s Tricare. If the equitable treatment of service providers is not intentionally addressed by Governor Wolf and the administration of Pennsylvania, equitable and accessible mental health services may never become a state reality.
American Psychological Association. (2016). 2015 survey of psychology health service providers. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/workforce/publications/15-health-service-providers/index.aspx
Bray, B. (2014, September 18). ACA’s first counselor compensation study reports varied pay, good benefits. Counseling Today. Retrieved from https://ct.counseling.org/2014/09/acas-first-counselor-compensation-study-reports-varied-pay-good-benefits/
Pennsylvania Launches ‘Reach Out PA: Your Mental Health Matters’. (2020, January 2). Governor Tom Wolf. Retrieved from https://www.governor.pa.gov/newsroom/pennsylvania-launches-reach-out-pa-your-mental-health-matters/