In conjunction with their training in psychological evaluation and intervention, predoctoral interns at the university's Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute (FMHI) are learning how to change policies and laws that affect mental health delivery.
"FMHI interns are trained in mental health policy research and advocacy in the hope that, as professionals, they will make a difference not only one person at a time, but rather one population at a time," says Richard Weinberg, PhD, director of the program.
During the first six months, interns attend weekly talks on the politics of mental health policy, policy research methodologies, mental health advocacy for children and writing effective policy briefs. Each intern chooses a faculty "policy mentor" who introduces him or her to advocacy activities, ongoing policy projects or research in the department. Once they've become policy-savvy, interns develop policy projects that address issues they encountered in their clinical placements.
Past interns have examined the cultural competence of health-care providers, the impact on mother-child relations of the 1996 federal welfare-to-work law and public health services to migrant farm worker families. One intern looked at local services for low-income children and families and traveled to the state capital in Tallahassee to watch legislative committee hearings on the topic and debate on child-related bills.
At least one of these projects has made a real impact on policy. Former intern Heather Flynn, PhD, helped change seclusion and restraint policies in Florida state hospitals with her project. Flynn had discovered that existing Florida procedures on seclusion and restraint didn't consider the special needs of women survivors of sexual abuse. She developed recommendations for administrative changes and her policy mentor, Colleen Clark, PhD, steered some of Flynn's recommendations through the Florida state legislature. As a result, Florida patients who have been sexually abused are no longer placed in four-point restraints.
"The experience was inspiring in terms of what a psychologist can do to actually bring about changes in policy that may improve quality of care and life for affected individuals," recalls Flynn.
Next year's interns will have the option to work in the Florida headquarters of U.S. Congressman Jim Davis (DFla.) for two weeks to experience policy-making first hand, says Weinberg.