SAMHSA works with federal and other partners to increase the supply of trained and culturally aware professionals to address the nation’s behavioral health needs.


The behavioral health workforce functions in a wide range of prevention, health care, and social service settings. They include public and private prevention programs; community-based and inpatient treatment programs; primary care health delivery offices; systems and hospitals; emergency rooms; criminal justice systems; and school-based or higher education institutions.

This workforce includes, but is not limited to: psychiatrists and other physicians, psychologists, social workers, advanced practice psychiatric nurses, marriage and family therapists, certified prevention specialists, addiction counselors, mental health/professional counselors, psychiatric rehabilitation specialists, psychiatric aides and technicians, paraprofessionals in psychiatric rehabilitation and addiction recovery fields (such as case managers, homeless outreach specialists, parent aides, etc.), and peer support specialists and recovery coaches.

The behavioral health workforce is one of the fastest growing workforces in the country. Employment projections for 2020 based on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecast a rise in employment for substance abuse and mental health counselors with a 36.3% increase from 2010 to 2020—greater than the 11% projected average for all occupations. This is based on an expected increase in insurance coverage for mental health and substance use services brought about by passage of health reform and parity legislation and the rising rate of military veterans seeking behavioral health services.

Serious workforce shortages exist for health professionals and paraprofessionals across the United States. For example, consider:

  • In 2011, there were only 2.1 child and adolescent psychiatrists per 100,000 people and 62 clinical social workers per 100,000 people across the United States.
  • 62 million people (20-23%) of the U.S. population live in rural or frontier counties; 75% of these counties have no advanced behavioral health practitioners.
  • In 2012, the turnover rates in the addiction services workforce ranged from 18.5% to more than 50%.

To support an ongoing focus and discussion on addressing these challenges, SAMHSA is planning the development of regionally based workforce workgroups to allow states and stakeholders to share strategies for enhancing, developing, and financing the behavioral health workforce. These workgroups will allow for the dissemination of information, state-to-state sharing, and linkages to resources among federal, state, tribal and local partners.

To address the challenges in recruiting, training, and retaining a diverse behavioral health workforce, SAMHSA has funded a number of programs, initiatives, and technical assistance centers. For detailed information on the challenges and how SAMHSA works with federal and other partners to address them, visit the SAMHSA Administrator’s Report to Congress – 2013.

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Last Updated: 09/15/2017