County-level estimates of mental health professional supply in the United States

Psychiatr Serv. 2009 Oct;60(10):1315-22. doi: 10.1176/ps.2009.60.10.1315.


Objective: This study compiled national county-level data and examined the geographic distribution of providers in six mental health professions and the correlates of county-level provider supply.

Methods: Data for six groups--advanced practice psychiatric nurses, licensed professional counselors, marriage and family therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers--were compiled from licensing counts from state boards, certification counts from national credentialing organizations, and membership counts from professional associations. The geographic distribution of professionals was examined with descriptive statistics and a national choropleth map. Correlations were examined among county-level totals and between provider-to-population ratios and county characteristics.

Results: There were 353,398 clinically active providers in the six professions. Provider-to-population ratios varied greatly across counties, both within professions and overall. Social workers and licensed professional counselors were the largest groups; psychiatrists and advanced practice psychiatric nurses were the smallest. Professionals tended to be in urban, high-population, high-income counties. Marriage and family therapists were concentrated in California, and other mental health professionals were concentrated in the Northeast.

Conclusions: Rural, low-income counties are likely candidates for interventions such as the training of local clinicians or the provision of incentives and infrastructure to facilitate clinical practice. Workforce planning and policy analysis should consider the unique combination of professions in each area. National workforce planning efforts and state licensing boards would benefit from the central collection of standardized practice information from clinically active providers in all mental health professions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Databases as Topic
  • Female
  • Health Workforce / classification*
  • Health Workforce / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Licensure / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Mental Health Services*
  • Middle Aged
  • Primary Health Care
  • Rural Population
  • United States
  • Urban Population
  • Young Adult