This winter, we sat down with Associate Dean of the College of Psychology Dr. Alvin McLean to gain some insight into working in the mental health field. This three-part blog series documents Dr. McLean’s in-depth answers to each of three questions about the field. Read on for question and answer #2.

What can be done to combat the lack of mental health care professionals in the U.S.?

I think one of the first things we need to do is reduce the stigma associated with receiving mental health services by starting earlier in exposing students at the elementary and high school level to what mental health is all about. People want to go into a field they are excited about and it there is a stigma associated with it, it is less attractive. We need to promote the field and remove the stigma around it early on.

Next, we need to find ways for people to practice mental health in settings outside of the typical mental health arena. Allowing people to practice in alternative settings can attract a wider range of people to the field as well as expand perceptions about the field. One solution to this is the new field of integrated healthcare, which involves psychologists and primary care providers teaming up to provide physical and mental health services in tandem. Another solution is community partnerships that situate mental health services in places like churches or local community centers. Providing services in familiar, non-stigmatized contexts not only offers potential practitioners a more inviting way into the field, it also tends to facilitate better outcomes in clients.

Finally, it’s important to note that the lack of mental health professionals mainly exists in underserved communities such as in communities of color and rural areas. We need to incentivize people to work in these areas. One example of how this is already happening is in the grants that are available, such as those from HRSA, for psychology students interested in doing their clinical training in underserved communities. Here at JFKU we have received what are known as pipeline grants for the past two years from the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development. These grants enlist undergraduates from underserved communities who commit to returning to these communities after their education to provide services. This is especially useful as research has also shown that clients have better outcomes when receiving therapy from someone who looks like them.

Overall, the important thing is that we’ve recognized the problem and are taking mental health services outside of the normal arena and putting them in places where people are more likely to receive them.

That’s it for part 2 of this discussion series. Stay tuned for part 3 in which Dr. McLean discusses his most rewarding experience working in the psychology field.

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