For many people, it takes courage to seek help from a counselor or therapist. Unfortunately, more than one-third of the US population lives in areas underserved by mental-health workers, with people of color disproportionately impacted by this labor shortage—which makes seeking help that much harder.
“Black, brown and/or Spanish-speaking people are especially underrepresented among clinicians,” explains Dr. Mark Libon, assistant professor of psychology. “Research shows that that if a client does not feel a connection between themselves and a counselor, they typically will not continue with that person and–worse still–will not try anybody else.”
Nolisha Greer, an MS student in the program, has faced similar challenges when seeking care from psychiatrists and psychologists over her lifetime.
“Too often, I felt out of place because my counselors didn’t understand the stress that I might have gone through as a Black woman,” Greer explains. “That’s why I’m here: Through mental health work, I can make a difference for the Black community.”
Unfortunately, the unpaid labor required for graduation by the Board of Allied Mental Health Professionals is a major barrier for MS students like Greer. They must complete both a 100-hour practicum (10 to 15 weekly hours in one semester) and a 600-hour internship (24 weekly hours September through May)–and per licensure requirements, these sites cannot pay.
“It’s a tremendous challenge,” Libon notes. “Most of our students are adults who are out on their own, with complicated lives and real bills to pay.”
Greer embodies this. She is her family’s primary breadwinner, with four children at home and a husband with complex medical needs.
“I had to choose between continuing my education and sacrificing my family’s stability,” Greer says. “Sometimes you have to make drastic decisions to make a difference in the world, but just a little financial support would take so much stress off my shoulders.”
To that end, Libon hopes to see more practicum and internship support funds become available to Salem State students through grants and unrestricted giving.
“Our students are sacrificing so much in order to make a difference,” he says, noting that many drop out–or even decline to attend once they understand the scope of the unpaid labor requirement, despite feeling called to the field.
Written by Rebecca Hains, PhD, professor, media and communication