The Licensed Mental Health Professional Shortage in Arizona

In a previous blog, we discussed Arizona’s increased need for healthcare professionals. The labor crisis caused by the pandemic and an aging population has continued to affect almost every aspect of health care, from hospitals to nursing homes. 

However, our focus in the past has been on the need for nurses, lab techs, medical assistants, physician assistants, and administrative personnel. Now for 2023, we are witnessing an increased demand for licensed social workers and psychologists in Arizona. The need is so great that our outreach for candidates has extended outside of Arizona. 

Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

One Example of a Current Behavioral Health Therapist Job Opening

Here’s one current (January 2023) example of a job opening we are recruiting for. 


SET YOUR OWN WORK SCHEDULE & HOURS  [$65,000-$135,000+]

Only Fully Licensed Therapists (Ph.D./PsyD/LPC/LCSW or LMFT) need apply. We are not accepting Associate Licensed Clinicians at this time.

Established 40+-year-old Outpatient Mental Healthcare Provider is looking for enthusiastic & motivated psychotherapists to join our Phoenix, Glendale, Mesa, Flagstaff, Prescott, and Prescott Valley AZ Teams. The Company’s team of Psychiatry, Neuropsychology and Therapy Clinicians is credentialed with nearly all health insurance plans. It provides each individual Clinician with a near ‘Private Practice’ type environment in which to utilize your professional training and expertise, while maximizing your earning potential.

Why is There a Need?

The COVID-19 pandemic has considerably impacted the demand for mental health professionals in the United States. It has been a fearful, isolating, and stressful time for many of us. At the height of the pandemic, 40% of adults reported experiencing depression or anxiety, compared with 11% pre-COVID. In June 2022, this percentage dipped to 33%, which is still three times higher than pre-COVID levels. 

The opioid crisis has also significantly increased the need for licensed professionals qualified to work with adults and youth with substance abuse disorders. Almost 20 million people were diagnosed with substance abuse disorders in 2022. Arizona ranks 9th in the nation for the total number of residents with substance abuse disorder, about 390,000 people. 

Social workers are also needed because our population is aging and needs more support with the activities of daily living and because homelessness, unemployment, and incarceration remain serious national issues. 

How Significant is the Shortage?

Nationwide, the Health Resources and Services Administration estimates we are about 6.4% short of the psychiatrists we need. There are not nearly enough licensed professionals to treat everyone who needs mental health treatment. More than 150 million people live in federally designated mental health professional shortage areas. 

In Arizona, 20% of the adult population has a mental illness, and 7% has a substance abuse disorder.  

The state ranked 49 out of 51 states for access to needed mental health care in 2022, which was considerably worse than the rank of 40th in 2021. 

To make the situation even more urgent, by 2030, the expected demand for mental health providers in the United States will increase:

  • 3% for adult psychiatrists 
  • 5% for psychologists 
  • 12% for social workers 
  • 15% for addiction counselors 
  • 13% for mental health counselors 

As you can see, the term “mental health provider” includes psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers (licensed and unlicensed), therapists, counselors, and nurses specializing in mental health care. All are in short supply right now, but Arizona’s most pressing needs are for licensed social workers and psychologists. 

Who are Licensed Social Workers (LISW)?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, social workers help people “prevent and cope with problems in their everyday lives.” These problems could include adoption, hunger, homelessness, and mental health. In addition, clinical social workers “diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional problems.” Clinical social workers are often licensed in the state they work in. They develop treatment plans for clients to cope with challenging life situations or refer clients to other resources, such as support groups or other mental health professionals. 

The BLS projects the need for social workers will grow 9% by 2031, with approximately 74,000 open positions nationally each year. The expanded need is said to be a combination of workers leaving to do other things or retiring, and an increase in individuals needing more support as our population ages and more people are diagnosed with mental illness and substance abuse disorders. 

In Arizona, the US Department of Labor predicts that there will be a need for about 4,700 social workers in 2030, a 44% increase from 2020. In 2021, the average annual salary for a social worker in Arizona was $46,478. For a healthcare social worker, the average annual salary was $60,790

To become a licensed social worker in Arizona, you must have a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW). In some cases, a master’s degree in social work (MSW) is required. The Arizona Board of Examiners offers three licenses for social workers: Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), Licensed Baccalaureate Social Worker (LBSW), and Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW). Each license has a specific set of requirements. Arizona has no formal reciprocity with other states if you plan to relocate. Still, the Board does offer licensure by endorsement for at least three years with no disciplinary actions. To be eligible, you must have earned your current social work license under rules equivalent to or more rigorous than Arizona’s. All licensed social workers renew their licenses and complete 30 hours of continuing education every two years in Arizona.

What About Psychologists? 

The official job description of a psychologist is that they “study cognitive, emotional, and social processes and behavior by observing, interpreting, and recording how people relate to one another and their environments. They use their findings to help improve processes and behaviors.” In other words, they work with patients to understand their feelings and to make better behavioral choices. Psychologists often work in laboratories, research settings, and clinical environments. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the employment of psychologists to grow 6% by 2031, which should be about 14,100 new openings every year. Many of these openings are expected to result from the need to replace professionals who change occupations or retire. In May 2021, the average annual salary for a clinical/counseling psychologist in Arizona was $76,870.

In Arizona, psychologists are licensed by the Arizona Board of Psychologist Examiners. A licensed candidate must have a doctoral degree in clinical psychology, counseling psychology, school psychology, or another type of applied psychology from a doctoral program accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). They must also complete at least 3,000 hours of supervised experience, including 1,500 hours in a formal internship program. In addition, candidates must pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). If you have been licensed and in good standing in another state or Canada for at least five years, you may apply for a license by credential in Arizona. 

The Future of Mental Health Jobs in Arizona

As the need for licensed mental health professionals grows and finding qualified candidates becomes more difficult, employers and recruiters are becoming more creative in promoting job openings. Applicants understand that their expertise is in high demand and are taking advantage of it. They are looking for employers that offer a great workplace culture, fulfilling work, and a livable wage. Some applicants are willing to relocate (or work remotely) to get these benefits. Smart employers are casting a wider net outside city or state limits to find qualified candidates. 

Desert Medical Careers are always open to out-of-state applicants for any available job opportunity. Our experts can help you assess each opening in terms of salary, benefits, required licensure, moving expenses, and other essential elements. So don’t let location stop you from finding the perfect job. Contact us today for more information. 

To explore employment options in mental health, give us a call today at (602) 468-6300 or fill out the form below for more information.

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