There are too many Psychologists in the Desert

Where are the highest and lowest concentrations of psychologists?

Important work has been done by APA’s Center for Workforce Studies; I don’t want to take that away from them– just offer a perspective on the map they drew. I’ll add a link to the March APA Monitor when it goes online in a few days (it is available for free online, remember?).

On page 13 of the March, 2016 APA Monitor—- APA’s Center for Workforce Studies notes that approximately 33% of the counties in the United States appear to not have a licensed psychologist (at least one using that county as their address). For those of you who like fractions that is 1/3: approximately 1 out of 3 counties in the United States don’t have a psychologist.

The Map they drew uses the color RED with a “very high concentration” label, which seems to have a subtle judgment about the number of psychologists in those locations. However, despite apparently being a map based on county in certain areas it seems to create the wrong impression. For example, the entire state of California is colored red or an off red for “Very high concentration” or “High concentration.” I’m not a fan of how they drew the map truthfully. One can imagine people drawing conclusions like “the thousands of square miles in Death Valley National Park in California are saturated with psychologists.” Good news: if you’re dying of thirst in the desert there will likely be a psychologist there to help you with your feelings about that fact. Patient: “Water!” Therapist: “Tell me about your mother?”

The Map also appears to indicate that Yellowstone National Park, the world’s oldest national park and my vacation destination last Spring, has an “average” number of psychologists. Yellowstone National Park is 3,472 square miles and if they were talking about the wintertime, they don’t even have a full compliment of park rangers. Most of the employees there are seasonal.

The map seems a bit misleading and the terms used like “very high concentration” can create the wrong impression, particularly in the context of a world where people have trouble getting mental health treatment and even our largest employer, the VA, reports that they have a psychologist shortage. I think the words we use matter and “very high concentration” is probably a poor choice of them.

The good news: I get to mention that this year is the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service. Congratulations to that America, and congratulations to Yellowstone for having an average number of psychologists available to treat the Grizzly Bears and the Bison. 😉

Incidentally, the picture is me and my daughter Erin at the base of Fairy Falls in Yellowstone National Park.

Remember to subscribe to get the latest posts by email: The Free Referral Source for the month of March will be posted soon; I’m also going to be posting some preliminary results from some “investigative journalism” I’ve been doing related to how many psychologists there are licensed in the United States and how many belong to their state psychological associations. I’ll tell you the percentages for as many states by giving you the whole list from highest percentage to lowest percentage. Who will eventually be crowned the Best Psychological Association in America based on this metric? We’ll have to wait and see 😉

Thanks again,

Todd Finnerty, Psy.D.

P.S. Here is some interesting county-by-county data out of New York State (a state colored entirely RED for Very high concentration). There is a county in NYS with zero psychologists and other counties with single digits. The county that has only one or no psychologists, however, still appears as though it has a “very high concentration” on this map.