Healing A Broken Mental Health System: Katie Parker On 5 Things That Can Be Done To Fix Our Broken Mental Health System

An Interview With Stephanie Greer


Improve access to care. All Americans deserve equal access to quality mental healthcare regardless of geography or socioeconomic status. There would be significant positive impact with reduced costs, sensible policy change and with leveraging the use of available technology. By fostering collaboration among policymakers, healthcare professionals, and insurance companies, significant strides can be made to break down barriers and achieve the goal of increased accessibility.

The current state of the mental health system is a conversation that echoes in the halls of policy-making, the corners of social advocacy, and within the private struggles of individuals and families. As we continue to witness an unprecedented need for robust mental health support, the shortcomings of the existing system become more glaring. It is within this backdrop that we seek the insight of those who are at the forefront of behavioral health. In this interview series, we are talking to behavioral health leaders, policymakers, mental health practitioners, advocates, and reformers to share their perspectives on healing our broken mental health system. As a part of this interview series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Katie Parker MA, LPC.

Katie Parker is a licensed professional counselor who has worked in various clinical environments including private practice, group practices, and at a community mental health agency throughout her career spanning nearly two decades. This diverse background working in numerous roles has allowed her to gain experience with individuals of all ages coming from cross-cultural socioeconomic backgrounds dealing with mental health concerns ranging from mild issues to severe mental illness. Currently, you can find Katie at her private practice Katie Parker Counseling PLLC, providing therapy to adults in Michigan.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your background and your childhood backstory?

Absolutely, and thank you for having me again!

I grew up in the suburbs of Metro-Detroit in a middle-class family. It was before smart phones and internet which may sound inconceivable to a younger generation, however, I truly miss it sometimes. Most who lived in my area had easy access to medical and mental health care. The stigma surrounding mental health was just starting to change for the better as I was growing up. People were openly discussing seeing a therapist and the previously taboo subject was mentioned on sitcoms and in social circles. It seemed like all of a sudden everyone had a therapist!

Although I was always interested in psychology, I first pursued a degree in marketing and public relations in college. After completing my undergraduate work, I interned at RCA and then was hired on for my first professional position at Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG.) After 7 amazing years in the music industry, BMG merged with SONY Music and I was laid off by the newly formed SONY BMG. The music industry was changing due to piracy and streaming services and I was ready to head in a new direction.

I had been mentoring in a program for at risk youth which gave me a sense of purpose. Instead of seeking another marketing position, I accepted employment at a Community Mental Health Agency craving a job where I could continue to make a difference in the lives of others. The agency offered a matching program for graduate school tuition which encouraged me to complete my master’s degree in counseling leading me to a gratifying career as a clinical therapist.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Such a good question, there are so many I quotes I live by! Eleanor Roosevelt alone has too many for me to choose from. I am particularly fond of her quote, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” I also like the Audrey Hepburn quote, “Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible’!” There seems to be some lack of agreement on who to credit for this quote, but I have always lived by the words, “You can’t win if you don’t play the game.”

This could go on for a while, and you asked for one single favorite, so I will say my favorite life lesson quote of all time comes from Maya Angelou, “You are the sum total of everything you’ve ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot — it’s all there. Everything influences each of us, and because of that I try to make sure that my experiences are positive.”

Obviously, not everything you experience can be positive, and adversity is essential for growth and development. However, in my life I am mindful of what books, movies and conversations I enjoy for leisure choosing ones that enlighten, motivate and improve my mood as much as possible. Staying informed about current events is important, but I limit the amount of time I spend consuming social media and overly sensationalized negative news, checking in with myself and taking breaks as needed. I have learned to let go of toxic people or environments and choose to surround myself with positive and supportive people who uplift and inspire me.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. It is often said that “the mental health system in America is broken”. What does that statement mean to you? From your perspective what is “broken” today?

To me, a “broken” system means that there are many people seeking mental health care and encountering barriers to obtaining treatment.

One of the major issues contributing to the broken mental health system is the lack of access to care. Many Americans simply cannot afford services even when they are insured due to expensive plans with high deductibles and copays. Even State funded programs are limiting in the types of treatments approved or providers participating. Insurance companies can sometimes act as a barrier or gatekeeper to services deemed necessary by a qualified mental health professional through denial of services or excessive red-tape such as prior authorizations.

Other access to care problems include transportation issues, rural or impoverished areas lacking resources, and lack of providers. Some areas are experiencing a growing demand for mental health services although have a limited supply of resources or qualified professionals to meet this need. This shortage results in long wait lists for appointments and a lack of continuity in care. Lack of access to care puts a financial and emotional strain on our families and communities, as untreated mental health issues can result in increased rates of homelessness, substance abuse, and even suicide.

Another controversial aspect of the broken mental health system is the lack of regulation for unlicensed disciplines such as life coaches, influencers and alternative lifestyle healers who do not require any formal education or certification in order to practice. While these disciplines possess valuable skills and provide some effective support, the absence of standardized training and oversight can lead to potential issues, especially when a person seeking care for mental illness believes the practitioner is appropriately qualified. People seeking help may unknowingly receive guidance from someone who lacks the necessary qualifications, ethics and expertise to address their mental health concerns. This undermines the credibility and professionalism of the mental health field as a whole.

A challenge contributing to a broken system is qualified and experienced mental health professionals are leaving the field due to burnout, insufficient reimbursement and frustrating structural barriers. Costly professional development is often required to remain competitive and relevant in the field. Furthermore, unclear policies and laws, overwhelming and complex systems and red-tape are not only disconcerting for those seeking care, they can be significant obstacles preventing mental health professionals from flourishing in their career.

There are unfortunately many other significant issues with some of the more notable being lack of funding for programs and research, failure to implement parity ensuring equal treatment of mental health conditions in terms of insurance coverage, available services, and reimbursement rates, and negative stigma including harmful myths, shame for seeking help and disapproving societal attitudes. Also, there are social factors such cultural bias, poverty and poor education creating disparities in treatment with marginalized communities often facing higher barriers to care.

What about any bright spots? Do you think there are any elements that we get right in today’s world that we wouldn’t want to reverse unintentionally?

Yes, it is not all bleak, there are so many bright spots!

The rapid pace of technological development has opened up a world of possibilities, allowing us to learn, educate, advance in research, collaborate, and share information on a global scale. Online platforms, telehealth and digital resources have made mental health treatment more accessible.

With technology and research providing new and valuable insights into the neural mechanisms underlying mental illnesses, it has paved the way for more targeted and effective psychotropic medications. Ongoing studies are being conducted to explore emerging areas adding to existing evidenced-based modalities providing more treatment options with potential for reduced risk and increased positive outcomes.

There has been progress in the realm of social justice shedding light on issues such as gender and racial inequality, sparking important conversations and driving change. Social media platforms have provided a space for individuals, celebrities and influencers to share their experiences, fight stigma, offer support, and raise awareness. Many licensing bodies now require professionals to undergo implicit bias training as part of their relicensing requirement which helps to raise awareness of personal biases and the impact on treatment.

Many schools and workplaces have implemented mental wellness initiatives. Some schools provide access to counseling services, incorporate mental health curriculum and teach social emotional skills. Workplaces are also taking steps to prioritize employee mental health by implementing wellness programs, mental health resources such as employee assistance programs and flexible work arrangements.

Advocacy groups have been calling for increased parity, funding and resources, recruitment and training of mental health professionals, as well as the expansion of mental health facilities and integrated community-based services. Non-profit organizations work to educate the public, provide resources, and advocate for policy changes that prioritize mental health.

In your opinion, what are the 5 most impactful things that could help heal the broken mental health system? These could be on any level including training, workforce, policy, culture, equity etc.

1 . Improve access to care. All Americans deserve equal access to quality mental healthcare regardless of geography or socioeconomic status. There would be significant positive impact with reduced costs, sensible policy change and with leveraging the use of available technology. By fostering collaboration among policymakers, healthcare professionals, and insurance companies, significant strides can be made to break down barriers and achieve the goal of increased accessibility.

2 . Initiate insurance reform. Healthcare reform can be a controversial topic. However, many would agree the current system is costly, complex and bureaucratic at minimum and needs some reform. The process of finding the right provider, understanding insurance coverage, and accessing appropriate care can be confusing and time-consuming. Insurance companies have the power to make a beneficial change to the mental health system by simplifying processes, reducing administrative red tape, increasing reimbursement rates for providers and reducing out of pocket costs to recipients. While the path to reform may be complicated, taking these steps and implementing parity laws would make a tremendous positive impact on the mental health system.

3 . Strengthen the workforce. Efforts can be made to attract and retain mental health professionals by offering competitive salaries and other incentives. Mental Health institutions that prioritize employee well-being, address burnout, and foster a supportive work environment can lead by example. Employers, universities, insurance companies, government resources, and private funding sources can all contribute to providing affordable (or better yet, free!) professional development opportunities for mental health workers. This would ensure a workforce that is updated with the latest research and best practices in the field, ultimately benefiting both the professionals and recipients.

4 . Regulate… but no too much. It is essential to establish clear guidelines and standards to ensure that those seeking mental health support receive evidence-based care from qualified professionals. People sometimes turn to other helpers such as coaches, influencers, and healers as a more affordable alternative to therapy. These unregulated professions currently do not require experience, licensure, training, education or certification. While alternative disciplines may have great value as helping professionals, the distinction between licensed and unlicensed mental health workers may become blurred, making it challenging for individuals to find the appropriate care.

However, it is equally important to guard against over-regulation in the mental health field. Accrediting bodies, federal and state laws, organizational policies, and licensing rules play a crucial role in protecting rights and ensuring the delivery of quality care in an ethical manner. Nonetheless, there are instances when conflicting guidelines and excessively burdensome policies can make it challenging for mental health professionals to understand and navigate the system. This can create barriers to providing efficient and effective care to those in need. Striking a balance between supervision and common sense is essential to promote the well-being of help seekers while also supporting mental health practitioners.

5 . Eliminate stigma. To heal the broken mental health system, people need to feel comfortable discussing their mental health. By providing accurate information about mental health conditions, their causes, and available treatments, we can normalize experiences and help dispel misconceptions and myths. Public awareness campaigns using celebrities, influential figures, the media and everyday people help to break down the barriers surrounding mental health by encouraging open conversations. Fostering a culture of compassion, non-judgement and support encourages and empowers us to take care of mental well-being just as we would our physical health.

If all of the items on your list were magically implemented tomorrow what change might we see in the world? What are the signs (big and small) that would show us that the system is being healed?

If the mental health system were being healed, all people, regardless of socioeconomic status, would have easy access to several affordable options for exceptional mental health care. Cost, geography, stigma, education and bureaucracy would no longer act as barriers and people would feel empowered to seek treatment. From reduced wait times and improved patient-provider relationships to advancing medical research and economic growth I am confident there would be positive changes both large and small across the mental healthcare system creating a ripple effect throughout the world.

If changes were implemented to the system, treatment would be dictated and approved by the mental health providers and not by insurance gatekeepers. You would have greater choice and control of the services you receive. If mental health care workers were provided with competitive compensation there would be quality providers entering and staying long term in the field. With oversight of previously unregulated professions, there would be a more assurance of ethical, reliable, and appropriate care.

Services would be patient-centered and efficient and healthcare systems would prioritize the well-being of individuals and communities. All mental health professionals would be trained and experienced in working with diverse populations ensuring that everyone received culturally competent and inclusive care that takes into account their unique needs and situations. Without stigma keeping people from seeking help, there would be increased prevention and early intervention.

A healed mental health system in America has the potential to positively impact healthcare service delivery and reform efforts worldwide, similar to how we have learned from successful systems in other countries. The economic implications would be significant, as a less burdened local economy would enable increased international collaboration and global prosperity. In a thriving system, the sharing of intellectual and practical resources would be more likely, leading to greater cooperation and progress in addressing mental health challenges on a global scale.

What is a project you or others are working on today that gives you hope? How can our readers learn more about this work?

As I have opened my own private practice, I have learned that there is an entire community of passionate, highly experienced and seasoned therapists who have started their own private practices and are looking for clients. Although there are waitlists in larger group practices, these solo practitioners tend to have more immediate openings. Because they may not have the marketing budget of the bigger box agencies, you may not find them through a simple online search. Luckily, you can find these therapists on popular online therapy directories and filter the results according to your preferences.

Offering telehealth services has been a game changer for myself and many other therapists who want to focus on a specific population or specialty. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth has become more of a commonplace practice which has opened doors to reach people who normally would not seek care. The flexibility of telehealth allows you to fit mental healthcare into your busy schedule with convenience that fits your lifestyle.

Within the past few decades, there have been remarkable advances in evidence-based treatment modalities and innovative therapeutic approaches. For example, gene testing involves a simple mouth swab collection of saliva from the inside of your cheek and the DNA sample is sent to a laboratory where the data is analyzed. This DNA gene testing can provide insightful information about your genetic makeup and prescribers can use those insights to help guide medication decisions.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) has emerged as a highly effective technique to treat post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), types of panic and anxiety and phobias by using rapid eye movements to reduce the impact of emotions and memories on the brain. Another similar technique called Brainspotting focuses on eye movements centered on one spot to aid in processing psychological trauma or other issues. These advancements are just a few examples of the many new exciting evidenced-based practices and treatment modalities which continue to undergo further research, development and testing.

How do you see technology shaping the future of mental health care and its accessibility?

In the past few decades, there have been significant technological advancements in the field of mental health. From telehealth and AI to wearable devices and mobile apps, these innovations have expanded access to care, improved diagnosis and treatment, and empowered us to take more control of our mental well-being.

You can now connect with others who have similar struggles, find online communities, and access valuable resources at your fingertips. Digital platforms and apps can also provide resources and tools for self-care and mental health management offering convenience and accessibility. This allows the flexibility to engage in self-care wherever and whenever you need it. Telehealth and online platforms can bridge gaps in access to care and reach those who may not otherwise have access to mental health services.

With the development of sophisticated brain imaging techniques, scientists can now observe and analyze the brain’s structure and function in unprecedented detail and identify patterns associated with different mental disorders. Wearable devices collect and analyze data giving insights into mental well-being and can help you make informed decisions about self-care. Advancements in neuroscience and biotechnology can lead to more targeted treatments and interventions.

Artificial intelligence can be utilized to develop virtual reality applications that simulate real-life scenarios to help individuals with anxiety disorders or phobias. It is exciting to think of all of the possibilities with new technology and I would predict that some amazing advancements and tools are yet to come!

In your view, how do social factors like poverty, education, and culture affect mental health care and its effectiveness?

Marginalized communities face many unique challenges and barriers when seeking mental healthcare. For example, the cost of therapy, medication, and other treatments can be prohibitive. Other stressors such as unstable housing, food insecurity, and lack of social support can further exacerbate mental health issues. There are higher instances of cooccurring disorders including medical health issues and substance abuse.

Limited access to quality education can contribute to a lack of awareness and understanding of mental health issues. This can result in stigma, discrimination, and a reluctance to seek help. Individuals with lower levels of education may have limited knowledge about available mental health resources and how to navigate the healthcare system. Language barriers can act as another obstacle to seeking help and creating even more stress navigating an already confusing system.

Different cultures have varying beliefs, values, and norms surrounding mental health which can influence how or if someone asks for help. There may be a stigma associated with mental illness, leading individuals to avoid seeking professional help or disclosing their struggles. Cultural beliefs can also impact the types of treatments that are considered acceptable or effective.

To address these issues, it is crucial to implement strategies that prioritize equity and reduce existing disparities. This can be achieved through targeted outreach programs, community-based initiatives, and the integration of mental health services into primary care settings. Educating the mental health workforce is also essential, which involves understanding and respecting cultural beliefs, practices, and values, as well as being aware of the impact of systemic racism and discrimination on mental health outcomes. By ensuring equitable access to mental health care, we can establish a system that is fair, just, and inclusive.

In light of the growing mental health crisis among young people, what innovative approaches or interventions have proven most successful for children and adolescents?

The internet and in particular, social media have become intertwined with the lives of young people, offering both benefits and drawbacks to mental health. On one hand, online access provides a platform for self-expression, connection, and access to information. On the other hand, it has been linked to increased rates of anxiety, depression, and cyberbullying.

Ongoing education about how to avoid the potential negative risks associated with the internet and social media use has been largely implemented for children and their parents as part of school curriculum. By educating young people and their families about the potential dangers, they can make informed choices and protect mental well-being in the digital age.

Our youth have been facing new extreme challenges to safety such as online bullying and school shootings. Call-in tiplines that allow anonymous reporting of bullying or behavior that pose a potential threat to safety have been successfully implemented in many communities.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought about unique challenges for children and adolescents including delayed social emotional learning (SEL), increased social anxiety and other symptoms related to an abnormal period of isolation from peers and their regular learning environments. Across the country, many schools have incorporated SEL learning as part of the curriculum teaching children mental health boosting benefits such as navigating interpersonal relationships, how to emotionally self-regulate and have increased empathy, etc. Additionally, many school have social workers or counselors to offer emotional support and guidance.

One growing approach implemented for today’s children and adolescents has been the use of 504 plans or individualized education plans (IEP) in school settings. A 504 plan and an Individualized Education Program (IEP) both provide support through accommodations to students with disabilities including mental health diagnoses such as anxiety or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD.)

In the community, depression, anxiety and other mental health screenings have been integrated into routine check-ups. Increased screening has helped with early intervention for emotional struggles that may have previously gone unaddressed and exacerbated into much larger issues.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. :-)

Okay, so I am going to fangirl here a little bit. I would choose actress/entertainer Kristen Bell because besides the fact that she seems like an all-around down-to-earth, hilarious and cool person, we seem to share many of the same values (and even grew up in the same area in Michigan.) It impresses me when celebrities use their voice to influence positive change and champion causes to raise awareness. In addition to her incredible acting career, her advocacy work in many areas including mental health, environmental activism, parenting, gender equality, and philanthropy have to me, have been equally remarkable.

Specifically related to fixing a broken mental health system, she has used her platform to break the stigma surrounding mental health. By sharing her own struggles with anxiety and depression, she has encouraged and empowered others to seek support and treatment. Because she has major bodies of work spanning across all generations from Disney’s Frozen to The Good Place, chances are she has starred in one or more of your favorite movies or TV shows. This means that her message has impacted so many.

Kristen Bell’s dedication to mental health causes goes beyond just raising awareness. Through her involvement with organizations, her candid discussions on podcasts, her support of awareness campaigns, her portrayal of complex characters, and her initiatives to combat loneliness, she helped bring the topic of mental health to the kitchen table where it belongs.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can stop by and visit my website at https://katieparkercounseling.com

Thank you for your time and thoughtful answers. I know many people will gain so much from hearing this.

About The Interviewer: Stephanie Greer, PhD is the Co-founder and CEO of Akin Mental Health — a company dedicated to guiding families on their journey supporting a loved one with mental health challenges like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and severe depression. Stephanie is passionate about this topic from her own personal experience growing up with a mother who struggled with bipolar 1 disorder and found a path forward to overcome the obstacles and live well. Stephanie’s professional experience includes a doctorate in neuroscience as well as design research roles at Hopelab and Apple. Stephanie brings this personal passion together with her world-class science and technology background to support families across the US in their personal journeys supporting loved ones with mental illness. To learn more about Akin Mental Health and join our community, visit us at akinmh.com.



Stephanie Greer, CEO of Akin Mental Health
Authority Magazine

Stephanie earned her PhD in neuroscience from UC Berkeley and uses her knowledge of the brain to translate insights from science into actionable tech products