December 2020 Job Trend Update: Midwest & Mental Healthcare

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At Shepard Search Partners, we keep a close eye on employment trends in healthcare. This used to mean browsing through the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics once a year to see how the job market was shifting. Now things are moving so fast that we can get a better feel for the direction jobs are trending through our network.

Mental healthcare typically hasn’t been a top concern for most major medical facilities. Psychiatrists voice frustrations about a lack of funding and staff–and they have every right to complain! 

We are seeing signs of a major shift, however.

Large healthcare organizations often acquire smaller clinics to absorb market share and talent. In the Midwest, we’ve seen some interesting acquisitions in the mental healthcare and substance abuse fields. We’ve also heard some rumblings about new investments in mental healthcare from major Midwest hospital networks.

Why the Change?

Unfortunately, shortages in mental healthcare professionals, facilities, and funding aren’t a new thing. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, over half of the United States counties do not have a practicing psychiatrist. Compare that to the one in five people in the United States with a mental health condition, and you can see why we are in desperate need of more mental healthcare workers.

People experiencing a mental health crisis are often forced to be held in emergency wards or turned away despite reporting suicidal ideation due to a lack of psychiatric beds. When calculating the number of psychiatric beds per 100,000 people, the United States ranks 29th among the 34 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

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Despite the positive trend of more people recognizing that mental health is much like physical health (everyone has it, and each person’s degree of mental health varies from month to month), it’s becoming harder for people to gain access to get help they need.

On September 2, the Journal of the American Medical Association released a study on levels of depression experienced by adults before versus during COVID-19. Rates of depression have increased from the pre-COVID-19 rate of 8.5% of the population to 27.8%. That’s a three-fold increase.

We’ve known mental health and substance abuse treatment resources have been lacking for a long time, but the added stress from COVID has pushed more organizations into action.

What Does This Mean?

In 2019, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselor jobs would grow by 25% in the next ten years. Shepard Search Partners is confident previous predictions could double based on the hiring plans we’re seeing developed today.

For those of you already in the mental healthcare field, we would love to connect with you! For those of you thinking about pursuing an education in a mental health field, we’re here to say DO IT! Shepard Search Partners would like to connect with you as well. We are here to help support you however we can.

high mental healthcare counselor demand

Below is a quick description of different mental healthcare careers to help those of you debating which field to go into.

Mental Health Counselors

These mental health professionals help clients navigate a wide range of behavioral disorders and substance abuse issues and often obtain specialized certification. Dual certification in behavioral disorders and substance abuse allows for a wide range of flexibility when searching for job opportunities. However, the demand is high for counselors with any state accepted certification. 

In general, counselors work with their clients to:

  • Evaluate treatment needs 
  • Identify behaviors standing in the way of successful treatment
  • Learn techniques to better adapt to stressful situations
  • Develop treatment plans 
  • Set obtainable goals 

Behavioral disorder, substance abuse, and mental health counselors may work either one-on-one with clients or in group settings. In order to best treat their clients, counselors may work closely with psychiatrists, physicians, nurse practitioners, or social workers. Counselors may also refer patients to more intensive inpatient facilities or monitored outpatient programs if a patient is in crisis. They do not prescribe or recommend medications.

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For more on becoming a substance abuse, behavioral health, or mental health counselor, check out our trending career page!


Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in mental health and substance abuse disorders. This means they go through the full schooling expected of a medical doctor plus a one-year general residency followed by three years of clinical psychiatric training. Once this is done, they must pass a voluntary written and oral examination by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and then recertify every ten years.

In general, psychiatrists work with their patients to:

  • Evaluate treatment needs 
  • Determine whether physical illnesses are contributing to/causing a mental condition
  • Prescribe medications and assess their effectiveness
  • Reconvene regularly to monitor progress
  • Develop treatment plans 
  • Refer to more intensive treatment facilities as needed
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Depending on the setting, psychiatrists may also practice psychotherapy. In larger outpatient facilities and short-term inpatient centers, psychotherapy is often outsourced to licensed mental health therapists or psychologists.


Psychologists either choose a career in research or clinical practices. Research psychologists study both normal and abnormal psychology along with all of the mental processes that feed into human behavior. Clinical practicing psychologists focus on the diagnosis of mental health or substance abuse disorders and then helping their clients learn different processes to reduce stressors and cope with their disorder.

The main differences between a psychiatrist v. a psychologist are the amount of education required and the ability to prescribe medication. Psychiatrists are medical doctors and prescribe medications. Psychologists can only prescribe medications in five states with additional certifications. 

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Psychologists complete graduate school, then a doctorate degree (Ph.D. or Psy.D.), then a minimum of two years of training followed by state certification. This process typically takes about nine years versus a psychiatrist’s twelve years.

Available Grants and Scholarships

Because mental healthcare professionals are in such high demand, there are many grants and scholarships available to people who would like to pursue a mental healthcare career. For more information, check out the “Education” section on the American Counseling Association’s resource page and the U.S. Department of Labor’s free scholarship search tool.


We hope this article helped those of you on the fence about which career to pursue! If you have more questions and would like to speak with a professional, please contact us.

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