SAMHSA: More mental health professionals needed

By Paul R. Pace, News staff

Social workers are the among the behavioral health professionals greatly needed to meet a growing demand for services, says the new leader of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA.

Elinore McCance-Katz

Elinore McCance-Katz

Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz is the assistant secretary for mental health and substance use. In the newly created position, she advises the Department of Health Human Services secretary on improving behavioral health care in America.

“We do not have nearly enough practitioners in behavioral health, be it psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers or counselors – we don’t have enough,” she said. “…. The bottom line (is), we need to try to get people into the field.”

To address the workforce shortage, McCance-Katz said she wants to help build national certification programs so trainings can be standardized, and also to promote student loan forgiveness.

McCance-Katz shared how SAMHSA will direct its efforts in upcoming years at the National Council for Behavorial Health’s Hill Day in Washington, D.C., in October. It is the largest behavioral health advocacy event of the year.

NASW was among 21 national advocacy organizations that partnered to support the conference. It gathers hundreds of behavioral health providers, including NASW members, consumers and community stakeholders for a day of sessions and workshops on federal behavioral health policy.

Hill Day attendees then take their message to Capitol Hill to advocate for better resources for mental health and addictions treatment in their communities.

McCance-Katz said her position is newly created by Congress under the 21st Century Cures Act.

One of her many duties is to work with other federal departments and agencies within HHS to best serve the American people with serious mental illness or serious emotional disturbances as well as substance abuse disorders, she said.

“We are a small agency with a small budget, but we have a big job,” she said. “We will focus on serious mental illness as a priority. That includes treatment and recovery services for people with the most serious illnesses and what they need to live productive lives.”

“For now, the opioid crisis will be the second, very big issue that will be the focus of SAHMSA,” she said.

From the November 2017 NASW News. NASW members may read the full story here.


  1. Information for the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) student loan award cycle opening later in January can be found at
    Masters level Social Workers that are licensed in the State they work are eligible to apply for up to $50,000 in student loan repayment for two years of service at a NHSC approved site that is located in a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) with a score of 16 or more. Go to the HRSA Workforce Connector web site to look for approved NHSC sites with a HPSA score of 16 or more. You have to be working at the clinic as a LISW or have a job offer that states you will start working at the clinic before July, 2018. You have to commit to doing solely clinical work for 32 hours of your 40 hour work week or 16 hours for your 20+ hour work week for a half time award.

  2. Kaellen grace Lamonte LCSW

    I would love to be involved in this process as I am a Medicare provider as a therapist working with disabled and mentally ill.

    I think we need to have a standardized trauma specialist program and working with victims of crime and mental illness and substance abuse

  3. SAMHSA needs to focus on improving salaries for Mental Health professionals to recruit and retain experienced clinicians to the field. The current fee for service model used in most private not for profit organizations means when clients don’t show up due to illness or a myriad of reasons results in lost wages for the workforce. The extensive documentation requirements for clinicians also result in a backlog of work and less focus on direct clinical hours. There are little to no incentives for professionals to remain in the field.

  4. I am so excited to hear about the loan forgiveness component to these proposals for substance abuse treatment providers. It is long overdue. With the current opioid crisis God new something had to be done to get more workers in the field to work with these individuals. I would love to learn more about how loan forgiveness will work since I will be completing school in 2019 and plan on obtaining my CASAC certification. Thank you for this great information!

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