The United States is seeing a critical need for mental health counselors.

For some time now, even before the pandemic, there has been a shortage of counselors to meet the rising demand to treat conditions like depression and anxiety.

Almost a third of therapists are seeing more patients, according to a survey last fall by the American Psychological Association, and many are turning away patients because they’re booked up.

But this need isn’t new to the world of disabilities.

Can you imagine being a first-time parent and receiving the news that your child has an intellectual disability? You learn your child will require extensive medical care, therapies and support, never living the life you dreamed for her.

Can you imagine knowing from an early age that you will be the caretaker for your brother with an intellectual disability and that your life — your future — will all be centered around his care?

Can you imagine being an adult with an intellectual disability and unable to communicate your needs, express your feelings or move your body the way you would want? Your mental health needs often go unnoticed because others see the characteristics of your disability first.

There may be a great need for mental health counselors right now, but there is and has always been an extreme need for specialized mental health counselors for the individuals and families impacted by intellectual disabilities.

When you think about mental health counseling speciality areas come to mind. Family or couples counseling, therapy for addictions or substance abuse, services for trauma, violence or abuse. In fact, these are all specific certificates that mental health counselors can obtain.

But targeted services for those impacted by disabilities is a major area of counseling that is being overlooked. As is often the case when it comes to the world of disabilities, the needs of this community are often left out of the conversation.

Targeting services for this community would include grief counseling — learning to live with a diagnosis and mourning the loss of the anticipated future of a child; services for those with limited communication and processing skills, but desperately need help; coping with the emotional, mental and financial impact of a loved one with a lifelong disability; helping the 86% of siblings who become caretakers understand the diagnosis and processing the emotional impact of their future; treating the mental health needs of the individual with a disability, whose symptoms aren’t seen because of their disability.

We need change.

We need to start educating our current and future counselors on this growing population of individuals with disabilities and their caregivers. There needs to be a certificate that allows counselors to specialize in serving the disability population.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of great counselors out there making it work. But the need is at a critical point. A lot of families, including the ones I serve in our own community, aren’t reaching out to get the services they need because they don’t feel as though there is an understanding of their life, the disability or their needs.

Finding a solution for the mental health needs of the disability population is the next step in my mission.

Will you join me in finding a solution? Let’s show those impacted by disabilities that their needs matter just as much as everyone else.

Amanda Owen is the founder and executive director of Puzzle Pieces. Follow Amanda’s Blog and podcast Pieces of Me: Perspectives on Inclusion and Acceptance, www.piecesofme.org.

Amanda Owen is the founder and executive director of Puzzle Pieces. Follow Amanda’s Blog and podcast Pieces of Me: Perspectives on Inclusion and Acceptance, www.piecesofme.org

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