In Brief

The National Council of Schools and Programs of Professional Psychology (NCSPP) awarded its 2007 Innovation Award to a training program that pairs psychology students with primary-care physicians in community health centers for their practicum.

The Forest Institute of Professional Psychology, based in Springfield, Mo., received the award for its Integrated Healthcare Certificate (IHC) program, started in 2003. Twenty-five psychology graduate student participants work with psychologists and medical staff in six-month practicum rotations at the Jordan Valley Community Health Center and the Kitchen Medical Clinic, which provide outpatient medical care to mostly poor, uninsured and underinsured people.

In Forest's program, providers treat patients at the brisk pace of primary care, says Scott Schinaman, PsyD, a Forest Institute faculty member who rotates through the health centers.

Schinaman estimates that 80 percent of the patients who come to the clinics have a behavioral health issue that's contributing to a physical problem, whether it's smoking, poor eating habits, lack of exercise or substance abuse.

"There tends to be, for most, some behavioral component that needs to be addressed in their care," Schinaman says.

Instead of only being available for the traditional 50-minute therapy session, students and psychologists either get called in by physicians to help evaluate patients during appointments, or consult with the patient directly, he says.

Members of the psychological team work with patients in half-hour sessions on developing brief, behavior-oriented changes to help them, for example, eat healthier foods, exercise more or quit smoking. If the problem involves a specific mental illness, patients are referred to Forest's mental health services clinic for traditional psychotherapy and specialty care.

Besides working with patients, IHC students are immersed in the business side of medical practice, learning how reimbursement works through a six-month rotation involving billings/collection and intake, says Robert King, PsyD, a Forest Institute faculty member.

The award, instituted to recognize innovative approaches in the education and training of professional psychology students, comes with a $5,000 check and plaque presented at the NCSPP's January conference. The University of Denver's Graduate School of Professional Psychology won the first award last year for its program training students in international disaster relief.

The NCSPP, which represents professional psychology schools and programs, has 59 member programs and 16 associate members.

Forest's IHC program is innovative because of the way it directly connects psychology with people who need help in overcoming behavioral health problems, says Michael Horowitz, PhD, NCSPP past-president and president of the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.

"They have found a powerful way to get their school into the community, and have a really strong impact," Horowitz says.

- C. Munsey