Blog Post

Media Roundup: California’s Looming Behavioral Health Workforce Shortage

February 21, 2018

Healthforce Center’s latest report analyzes and projects future needs related to California’s behavioral health workforce and forecasts a shortage of qualified and diverse behavioral health professionals in California within 10 years. If current trends continue, California will have 41 percent fewer psychiatrists than needed and 11 percent fewer psychologists, licensed marriage and family therapists, licensed professional clinical counselors and licensed clinical social workers than needed by 2028. Additional behavioral health professionals will be needed to care for Californians with unmet needs for behavioral health services

The report was picked up by Politico, California Healthline, Capital Public RadioKPBS and KVPR.

Below are some highlights from the coverage:

California Healthline:

“This affects everybody with a behavioral health condition, particularly those with severe mental illness,” said Janet Coffman, associate professor in policy at University of California-San Francisco and one of the authors of the report, “California’s Current and Future Behavioral Health Workforce.”

Capitol Public Radio:

Coffman said loan repayment programs for medical students who go on to practice in underserved counties are helping to incentivize doctors to these areas.

There’s also potential to better utilize the existing workforce, she said. Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners have prescribing authority in California, but they don’t practice independently. A change to their scope of practice would require legislation.

“Out in rural areas where it may not be cost-effective to employ both a psychiatrist and a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, you might not be able to use [them],” she said. “That limits our ability to utilize (them) in ways that would be helpful to the mental health system.”

The report also found that there aren’t enough Latino and African-American psychiatrists and psychologists relative to those patient populations in California.


Janet Coffman, associate professor of health policy at UCSF and co-author of the report, said the state needs to make some investments to meet future demand.

“Even though most of us are working longer than ever before, when folks get into their 60s or their 70s, even if they don’t retire, they often reduce their work hours," Coffman said. "So, we’re really in California needing to think, how can we substitute for these folks?”

Read the full report.