The Adler School of Professional Psychology in Chicago has always emphasized the social and community teachings of Alfred Adler, the Austrian psychiatrist who pioneered the concept of considering an individual in the context of his or her environment. So it was a natural progression when the board of directors expanded the school's mission to emphasize social responsibility in its clinical training, says Adler President Raymond E. Crossman, PhD.
"What we mean by socially responsible graduates is someone who can look up at the client and see the forces that got them there in the first place," says Crossman.
To this end, the school revamped the curricula last year to offer courses in community psychology, public health, primary prevention, ecological psychology and public policy.
"Social interest is a theme, a kind of thread that runs throughout all the courses," explains Annalese Kahn, a second-year clinical student. "For instance, if we are being taught different disorders and psychopathology, it always comes down to what else is impacting this individual-socially, access to service, or other barriers."
Adler's one of a growing number of programs that are emphasizing activism as a core part of the curriculum. Although advocating for patients is not a new concept for psychology, educators at these schools believe that by emphasizing the connection between the individual and the community, students can help not just clients, but society at large. Graduates of these programs go on to be socially conscious clinicians, or they may employ their well-developed sense of social justice as legislative assistants, health policy researchers or community health advocates.
"I think the students come out with an appreciation of an environment's influence on people and the importance of context," says Susan Dvorak McMahon, PhD, chair of DePaul University's community doctoral program, which also emphasizes social responsibility. "If you are working with really underserved populations, sometimes you can't treat the presenting problems without solving other problems, like getting the power turned back on or feeding the kids."
TAKING IT TO THE STREETS
DePaul University in Chicago has long devoted itself to helping underserved populations, as reflected by its clinical-community and community psychology programs, which emphasize social justice and community work.
"I was really interested in how science and particularly psychology could be used in the service of society, and that's the whole mission of the university," Ronald Crouch says of his decision to get his doctorate at DePaul.
Community and clinical students take courses in community psychology, such as prevention, consultation and program evaluation. The clinical students also take a core clinical curriculum, and the community students take electives in areas such as public service, sociology, law and urban planning, says McMahon. Both programs also emphasize research and applied work.
In fact, in the clinical program students are integrated into a community mental health center that is housed at the school and has satellite offices in public housing developments.
"Part of the day you are doing clinical work in the center, working with families who have little power and big problems, and another part of the day [you are] doing research on the factors that influence these families," says Crouch.
At the University of South Florida's Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute (FMHI) in Tampa, psychologist Richard Weinberg, PhD, has developed a yearlong predoctoral internship that focuses on mental health policy.
"Violence, poverty, educational opportunities and job opportunities and the lack thereof-these are things that affect mental health and the service-delivery system," says Weinberg, the internship's director. "We train our interns in how to study and change these elements as a way to augment traditional psychology training."
Interns spend 80 percent of their time in standard psychological training, evaluation, psychological assessment, psychotherapy and consultation. In the other 20 percent they learn mental health policy. They attend weekly policy seminars conducted by institute faculty and they work one day a week with a faculty member on a mental health policy research project, such as examining the mental health services provided to incarcerated juveniles and policies for physically restraining hospitalized patients.
"We don't just provide psychological services to the economically...disadvantaged, we spend a considerable amount of time learning how to improve these services and make them more accessible," explains David Acevedo, a student who just completed his internship. "The training experiences at FMHI go beyond clinical skill and well into other areas including administration, organizational consulting, and-most especially-public policy."
"It was the side trips that stood out the most," says Samantha Wilson, PhD, who visited prisons and migrant worker camps as part of her FMHI internship.
Many interns go on to careers in which they advance the ideals of social justice that they learned as students.
For instance, former FHMI intern Jami Bartgis, PhD, began working for a nonprofit health center in Tulsa for urban American Indians, which provides culturally sensitive health care and works to promote greater access and improved health in the local communities. Bartgis, a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, also works with the Oklahoma governor's mental health advisory board, facilitating meetings with a government group that is assessing the mental health issues most in need of funding.
"I get all the leaders to the table to say, 'OK, what do Oklahoma Indians need?'" she explains.
That's exactly what Weinberg and other training directors hope for their graduates-that they will interpret their mission as psychologists broadly and make the world a mentally healthier place.
"We train them in mental health policy, and then we teach them to advocate for change," he says.
“If you are working with really underserved populations, sometimes you can’t treat the presenting problems without solving other problems, like getting the power turned back on or feeding the kids.”
Susan Dvorak McMahon
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