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Mental Health Workers Say Licensing Delays Are Preventing Them From Meeting Demand For Services

A billboard with a green background and an illustration of a mustachioed man reads: MENTAL HEALTH MATTERS 800-854-7771
A billboard in Long Beach promotes L.A. County's mental health services.
(Megan Garvey
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Many people continue to struggle with the mental health effects of the pandemic, which has upended so much and is now entering its third year.

It’s no surprise that, by several measures, mental health providers are in high demand. But some budding therapists ready to enter the field say state licensing delays are holding them back from providing care.

After spending tens of thousands of dollars on a master’s degree, Susie Cobb said she’s ready to take the next step in her career as a postpartum therapist in Ventura County.

Cobb, who recently gave birth, said she attends meetings of new mom groups and hears from women going through birth trauma, postpartum anxiety and isolation.

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“[There is] so much emotional pain in our country right now, I don’t care what side of the line you fall on politically, people are suffering and we’re unable to help them,” she said.

Cobb and other mental health professionals we heard from maintain that delays from the state’s Board of Behavioral Sciences are part of the problem. Cobb said she’s been waiting on her Associate Marriage and Family Therapist application for about two-and-a-half months.

By the board’s own accounting, it can be even worse if you’re applying for the Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist exam: average processing time from July through September of last year was about six months. That’s up from about two-and-a-half months in 2018.

In an emailed statement, the Board said it “understands the concerns and impacts processing delays have had in the past on certain applicants and is working diligently to process all applications, identify solutions, address processing delays, and improve processing times.”

In the meantime, Cobb said waiting on her licensing is a stress on her financially, too.

“The expectation that you, as a clinician, are somehow going to be self-sustaining for this time period ... I don’t know what the thinking is there,” she said.

According to a New York Times survey in partnership with Psychology Today, nine out of 10 therapists say the number of people seeking help is on the rise.

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