Two women attending a conference engaged in a thought-provoking conversation during the lunch break about qualifications for mental health jobs. One woman was a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) and the other young woman held a credential created by the legislature, but that lacked any specific educational background. It did require a year’s experience in mental health. The young woman was venting her distress to the social worker about her job duties. She felt that she was asked to perform tasks for which her credentials did not prepare her.

This scenario is not atypical. The young woman had been the person in her family and among her friends whom they turned to for advice and support. She enjoyed helping people, but rather than getting an advanced degree in the helping professions, she chose to work in a group home for the mentally ill. Her job was to teach daily living skills to the residents, but soon found that to be a hopeless undertaking since many of them were too ill to retain much. The experience of working in that group home for the mentally ill, made the woman eligible to receive a state-issued credential called a, Qualified Mental Health Professional.

The label is misleading. Qualified Mental Health Professional (QMHP), carries the implication that those experts can provide services such as skilled diagnosis and therapeutic treatment, usually performed by licensed clinicians. After leaving the group home, this young QMHP was hired by a local Community Services Agency where, she was assigned to work on their crisis team. The job demanded advanced knowledge for which her previous job had not prepared her. In the midst of sharing that frustrating experience with the social worker, the woman blurted out, “I think I’m going into real estate!” Empathetically the social worker asked about the problems with the job. The woman reported that the salary was fine, but the difficulties were the rotating hours and the lack of respect from her superiors. She described her greatest challenge as the need for adequate education. The LCSW discussed options with the young participant for staying in the helping field which included exploring various degree programs and trainings.

After the conference, the social worker reflected on her conversation with the QMHP. She realized that not only was the poor provider feeling inadequate and exasperated in performing the required tasks, but that the patients were also being short-changed by the cost-cutting arrangement. There is no way around the fact that the field of mental health contains a body of knowledge that teaches specific skills and abilities that cannot be compressed into a certificate! A master’s degree enables mental health workers to be called professionals. The professional status gives the provider an independence and level of confidence that is invaluable!

Secondly, mental health professions must take a hard look at the cost of providing the best services possible—not the cheapest. By cutting corners on the education of our providers, we also diminish the quality of service to our clients. Untrained providers can easily burnout, like the Qualified Mental Health Professional.

With education in mental health and a degree in social work, counseling, or psychology this young lady may have embraced working with crisis teams instead of considering a career in real estate!

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