I’ve seen several people share this article about the gaslighting that will occur after the COVID-19 pandemic in an urge to get to a sense of normalcy. One of the places that we will fully expect to see this is in the roles of mental health workers. There are already suggestions that mental health treatment will be the next need response to a mental illness epidemic during and after COVD-19. During this time, we actually have some chance to make some systemic changes, and we’re going to hear pushback against it.
The USA Today article talks about $425 million attributed to SAMHSA through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) ACT as part of nearly $850 million overall directed toward mental health related efforts, likely with much more to come in future aid packages as Americans deal with anxiety, depression, suicide, economic worry, and grief related to the response to the global pandemic. Government agencies and those contracted by them will be set up to start to address the increased needs of the population, while thousands of therapists working in other settings will feel the urge to step up and provide opportunities for people to heal from this time in human history. AND THIS IS A PROBLEM IF WE DON’T ADDRESS IT CORRECTLY.
For the very same reasons we feel the urge to rise to the occasion, we are also extremely vulnerable to be taken advantage of when these situations arise. As a field, we complain about low pay, the ever-increasing costs of education and training, and we have an opportunity to make systemic change to make sure that this doesn’t continue to happen to therapists. You will hear the calls from agency heads and government leaders about the need for mental health services. You will hear about this not being the right time to ask for decent pay. You might even be called greedy. And that is a good thing. Because if not now, when will we have a chance to demand our worth?
The field is labeled as an essential part of our work force. At the same time, we are being told that the years of education and the thousands of dollars of investments we have made for very specific skills in times of crisis make us greedy when we demand that we be compensated as essential. THIS. IS. GASLIGHTING.
To make meaningful change, we need to be able to see through this doublespeak about our role in the delivery of essential health services. When we were serving on the task force that ultimately led to CAMFT’s Statement on paying Associates, we had several discussions about the role that agencies and employers relied on unpaid and underpaid workers to further their missions and that using one impoverished population to treat another was not a way to maintain our field. If we haven’t done a good enough job of advocating for ourselves and for the ability to earn a living wage up until this time, then when are we ever going to have enough leverage to take care of ourselves.
The ability to make the most amount of change right now, while also the most vulnerable, is our prelicensed population. Those who have the most to gain, such as ample hours and trainings, are at the core of being able to stand for long-lasting change that can impact the rest of your careers. Economists have identified a behavioral principle called “Get-there-itis” that pushes people to pursue their own personal goals at the cost of not looking at the overall landscape that may help themselves and others. Prelicensees have the opportunity to take a stand, and licensees need to be there to provide ample support to them at this time. Or we just may never make the leap forward.