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I started my day rushing about the office, arriving 30 minutes early to finish work that was incomplete from the night before – winding myself up for a day of overlapping appointments, unexpected chaos, and little time for lunch or bathroom breaks. As usual, there were posters advertising upcoming trainings hung at various locations throughout the office and, as usual, in my hustle to organize medications, fax forgotten documentations from the night prior and heat up oatmeal in a paper cup for breakfast, I did not give the flyer a second thought…. I did not have time to give anything a second thought…
Ohh the joys of being an underpaid, not for profit, community mental health counselor.
As the day progressed I managed to grab a coffee and sneak back to the office for a few minutes between clients. I stood by my mailbox, grabbed the contents of already opened envelopes and miscellaneous papers, and took a moment to breathe. One first, and last, breath of relaxation. I looked down and noticed that a blue flyer advertising the training had been strategically placed in my mailbox. The flyer read “Living off Your Paycheck”. Immediately, my heart raced, the frustration set in, and I teeter-tottered back and forth between amused laughter and irritation at the ridiculousness of this training. Now do not get me wrong.. I believe it is essential to live within your means- I mean, this is something I teach my clients daily. However, the idea that thousands of well-educated individuals with Master’s Degrees, Licenses, and the responsibility of thousands of people’s lives in their hands, earn so little that they need a training on how to budget is ASTONISHING to me. Did I mention it is also unreasonable, negligible and shameful! My thoughts resembled something similar to “Don’t give me a training, give me a raise!… This was just one more reminder of the underpaid and under-appreciated job I so willingly dedicate my life to.
I want to take a moment to clarify that I do not, in any way, blame my employer for this. The agency I work for is great to its employees and gives back whenever possible. The problem, at large, lies within this country’s core beliefs and values. The funding allocated to social services, particularly mental health services, is detrimentally minimal. The inadequate services available, the poor insurance coverage, and the unsubstantial salaries for mental health providers all contribute to the dismal outcomes for mental health utilizers. Overall, the general American public fails to see how neglecting social services truly impacts their own lives. When people are not receiving adequate health care, nutrition, transportation, shelter, and education it directly impacts the society, and the world, we all live in. When there are not enough services and supports available to help those in need then problems multiply and ripple over to individuals who believed that they were once free of these burdens. Foreign Affairs writes elegantly on how the United States is “misguided” when it comes to social welfare. The article highlights the lack of services and funding available to social welfare recipients. When non-profit counselors work 10 hour days, provide 24/7 on-call support, and manage crisis after crisis, all while working within a broken system, it should be clear that something is not working. When well-educated individuals who spend their lives under the emotional and mental pressures of reducing depression, trauma, and psychosis are forced to acquire second and third jobs—or attend trainings on “Living off Your Paycheck”— is when the American people truly need to reevaluate their core beliefs and values.