3 Barriers Keep New, Diverse Professionals Out of Behavioral Health

In order to address workforce challenges, the behavioral health industry must support current and future mental health professionals to overcome financial, educational and workplace challenges.

These barriers prevent people from entering the space and lead to burnout for existing providers. They especially impact people of diverse and low-income backgrounds, according to a Government Accountability Office report.

The report is GAO’s distillation of existing federal behavioral health workforce efforts and research. It organizes challenges into three categories: financial, educational, and workplace.


From a financial perspective, low reimbursement rates translate into low provider compensation. Diminished earning prospects discourage students from taking on debt for behavioral health careers.

“Burgeoning psychologists appear to be burdened with alarmingly large and ever-increasing amounts of debt, with a lack of comparable growth in psychologist salaries,” states one study cited by the GAO report.

About 130 million Americans reside in areas with mental health clinicians shortages. Only about 28% of the need for mental health clinicians is met in these areas, according to another federal report.


Student debt assistance and workforce diversification efforts fall short in two ways. First, they only assist those who have already entered the field or finished some part of their training. Second, they don’t address barriers diverse students have earlier in their studies.

National Health Service Corps loan repayment or scholarship programs require two years of practice in an underserved area.

Over 80% of behavioral health providers that participated in the program remain in underserved areas.

In the workplace, the report found a lack of internship opportunities, especially in rural areas. These are key barriers to students becoming practitioners.

The American Rescue Plan gave millions in additional funding to workforce efforts.

It appropriated $100 million to the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training Program. That came in addition to the $112 million already appropriated to it during the federal fiscal year 2021.

The American Rescue Plan, passed in March 2021, appropriated $800 million for the National Health Service Corps. It already had a $430 million budget for fiscal 2021.

The report also compiled several datasets about the present and future size of the workforce. It finds that the U.S. will face shortages of psychiatrists and addiction counselors by 2030. By the same year, the U.S. will likely see a “sufficient supply” of licensed marriage and family therapists and school counselors.

Companies featured in this article: