Social workers are an important part of solving a mental crisis

Maurizio Fava’s December 13th Commentary “The Country Mental Health Crisis: A Pandemic Within The Pandemic” spoke many truths including the incredibly high suicide rate in the United States, the exacerbation of COVID-19 in many mental health experiences, and the current and predicted shortage of psychologists and psychiatrists. A major oversight, however, is the fact that licensed social workers in Massachusetts and nationally provide great levels of behavioral health – an estimated more than 60 percent of the mental health services.

Many thousands of social workers provide mental health and substance abuse services; Thousands of others provide preventive or interventional services to children and families in community and school settings, and practice in hospitals. Increasingly, social workers are being integrated into medical practices to assess and provide mental health needs.

Many community or private social workers also accept insurance that is consistent with the professional ethic of serving all customers. In Massachusetts, many of the 6,300 state members of the National Association of Social Workers offer community or private social work practices. The chapter operates a free therapy referral service to connect those seeking help with private providers in their area who accept caller insurance.

The need for social workers has risen sharply over the past ten years. So when Fava calls for a “bold approach with a concerted effort to help”. . . from everyone involved, “I hope he will involve social workers at the table and as part of the prevention and treatment solution.

Mary Byrne


The author is an Emeritus Associate Professor in the School of Social Work at Salem State University and a member of the National Association of Social Workers.

My social work colleagues and I share Maurizio Fava’s concern about the lack of adequate outpatient and inpatient psychiatric care. The psychological stress was particularly exacerbated by the consequences of the pandemic. The lack of fair reimbursement by health insurers reflects the persistent misunderstanding in our culture that the pain caused by psychological and emotional stress in the patient’s life is comparable to physical pain. We are also aware of administrative hurdles caused by insurance and approval requirements (such as federal approvals).

However, the reader might get the wrong impression from their comment that only psychiatrists and psychologists are mental health providers. Much of the psychotherapy in agencies, hospitals, and private practices is performed by master’s level social workers trained as clinicians and similarly qualified licensed psychosocial counselors. Patients find that our skills and expertise are well worth looking for, and I believe your readers who come to us for treatment will attest.

Laurie Van Loon


The author is a licensed independent clinical social worker.

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