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Where’s the Money? How corporations underpay social workers and other mental health professionals.



By: Sarah Cline, LCSW, PMH-C


Corporations take advantage of social workers and other mental health professionals. In this article I will discuss how we are not compensated for our level of education and skill appropriately. I will be referring to social workers and mental health professionals in this article and I am defining them as master’s level professionals. From hospitals to insurance companies, corporations don’t seem to appreciate the hard work and skills that mental health professionals have. We are some of the lowest paid professionals with graduate degrees. Most of us have student loans, licensing fees, and the expense of continuing education classes. Many work nights and weekends and spend time being on-call. Our jobs are important, but our society doesn’t see the ways we contribute to corporate net worth. I have been in private practice for the last eight years and have seen my rate with the highest paying insurance company go up by only five dollars. Meanwhile they report increasing profits each year. I believe this reflects the lack of value placed on social and emotional wellbeing of people in this country.


Social workers and mental health professionals save corporations money and keep people working!! Those corporate executives at the top don’t see it, but we do. From the discharge planner at a large hospital to the community mental health counselor. All of us are helping to keep people functioning in a way that allows them to go to work and to continue contributing to society. Discharge planners help patients get out of the hospital faster so that there isn’t an enormous drain on the medical system with folks who have social or psychological needs that without us, would prevent them from leaving higher levels of when medically stable. Community mental health counselors help people with low incomes have access to therapy, so they can function better in their lives and in their work. Things need to change, society needs us!


Eight years ago, I left a hospital job to work for myself. At that time, I had two kids needing daycare and an hourly rate of thirty-two dollars an hour and the numbers just didn’t add up. Working for myself allowed me more flexibility and a higher hourly rate. I have been disappointed by the lack of rate increases by insurance companies, but I have decided this is the best place for me to be financially. While recently looking through positions posted on LinkedIn, I realized that salaries for social workers and other mental health professionals have become stagnant. According to The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean salary for a social worker with a master’s degree in 2022 is $64, 360 and master’s level clinical counselors had a mean of $66,880. While people seem to be seeking out mental health services more than ever and jobs for social workers/mental health professionals seem to be abound, corporations and insurance companies have not caught up with the importance of our profession. It can feel disappointing as an experienced professional to see that the ceiling for our salaries isn’t increasing while the cost of living is increasing seemingly by the day!


As professionals, we are fabulous at advocating for our clients but not always good at advocating for ourselves. Sometimes we feel bad asking to be paid more for the services we provide. I remember starting out in private practice and having to reconcile my desire to help people with my need to afford living in an expensive suburb of Chicago with two kids. I no longer struggle with that, and I value myself as a professional with many years of experience. In fact, I think I deserve to be paid more by insurance companies. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want and if that isn’t possible where you are at just keep looking. I believe that as a collective group we can grow that mean salary by pushing and advocating. We are valuable on many levels! We put in the time and effort, and we continue to grow in our fields. If anyone wants to start a coalition with me, please let me know! There is definitely more power in numbers! sclinemsw@yahoo.com


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