Maurizio Fava’s Dec. 13 op-ed, “The country’s mental health crisis: A pandemic within the pandemic,” spoke many truths, including the unbelievably high rate of suicide in the United States, the exacerbation of COVID-19 in many mental health experiences, and the current and predicted shortage of psychologists and psychiatrists. A large omission, however, is the fact that licensed social workers provide a great amount of behavioral health in Massachusetts and nationally — estimated to be more than 60 percent of mental health services.
Many thousands of social workers provide mental health and substance abuse services; thousands of others provide preventive or intervention services to children and families in community and school settings and practice in hospital settings. Increasingly, social workers are integrated with physician practices to assess and provide mental health needs.
Many social workers in community or private settings also accept insurance, consistent with the profession’s ethic to serve all clients. In Massachusetts, many of the 6,300 members of state’s chapter of the National Association of Social Workers provide community-based or private social work practice. The chapter operates a free therapy referral service to connect those seeking help with private providers in their area who accept callers’ insurance.
Demand for social workers has grown significantly in the past decade. So, when Fava calls for a “bold approach, with joint efforts to help . . . from all stakeholders,” I hope he includes social workers at the table and as part of the preventive and treatment solution.
The writer is an associate professor emerita at the School of Social Work at Salem State University and a member of the National Association of Social Workers.
My social work colleagues and I share the alarm raised by Maurizio Fava regarding the lack of adequate outpatient and inpatient mental health care. Psychological distress has been especially exacerbated by fallout from the pandemic. The lack of fair reimbursement from health insurance companies reflects our culture’s continued misunderstanding of the truth that the pain of mental and emotional distress is comparable to physical pain in the lives of patients. And administrative hurdles created by insurance companies and licensing requirements (such as state-by-state licensing) are familiar to us as well.
However, the reader could get the misimpression from his op-ed that only psychiatrists and psychologists are mental health providers. A great proportion of agency, hospital, and private practice psychotherapy is provided by master’s-level social workers trained as clinicians and similarly qualified licensed mental health counselors. Patients find that our skills and expertise are worth seeking out, as I believe those of your readers who have sought treatment with us will confirm.
Laurie Van Loon
The writer is a licensed independent clinical social worker.