Feature

Like many ethnic minorities, American Indians often meet with a mental health provider once, and then never return for more treatment, psychologists say. Commonly, that's due to cultural differences in the way that American Indians and non-Indian providers perceive wellness and family roles.

And because there are so few American Indian providers, American Indians can seldom find providers who understand their needs. In fact, for every 30,000 American Indian people, there is only one American Indian clinical psychologist--a number that isn't surprising given that from 1987 to 1997 few American Indians received doctoral degrees in psychology each year, according to the National Research Council.

But the Indians into Psychology Program (INPSYCH) is among the initiatives working to change those statistics. It seeks to train more American Indian psychologists by encouraging young Native Americans to pursue psychology careers. The program was authorized by Congress in 1992 but it wasn't funded until APA's education advocacy staff began pushing for funding in 1994.

The program is currently offered at Oklahoma State University, the University of North Dakota and the University of Montana. But APA's education advocacy staff is working to receive additional funding to offer INPSYCH programs at the Utah State University, the University of South Dakota, the University of Alaska at Anchorage, the University of Alaska at Fairbanks and Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 2001, says Nina Levitt, EdD, director of education policy in APA's Public Policy Office.

INPSYCH currently receives $600,000 in federal funding, with each university getting $200,000 to pay for scholarships, summer enrichment programs, administrative fees and recruitment outreach to colleges that enroll a large number of American Indians.

The program is expected to increase the number of American Indians working on reservations and in Native American communities by encouraging Native Americans to consider a career in psychology while they're still in high school and college.

"The program is unique in that it establishes a pipeline though high school, undergraduate and graduate school and then back into the community," says Levitt.

Graduate students who are accepted into the program are expected to work in the Indian community for one year for each year of funding they receive. But experts say it's likely American Indians would continue to practice in their communities after their obligations are fulfilled.

"Among all ethnic minorities in this country, Native Americans are more likely than any others to go back and contribute to their community," says John Chaney, PhD, associate professor and executive director of the INPSYCH program at Oklahoma State.

Utah State University and APA also offer separate programs that are aimed at encouraging American Indians to earn master's and doctoral degrees in psychology.

Psychologists attribute the low number of American Indian psychology students to a lack of psychologistrole models. With so few psychologists working with this population, it'sdifficult for American Indian students to consider graduate training in psychology, says Arthur McDonald, PhD, chief executive officer of Morning Star Memorial Foundation in Lame Deer, Mont.

INPSYCH provides financialaid and mentoring for AmericanIndian undergraduate and doctoral students. Graduate students who are accepted receive about $18,500 a year to cover the cost of tuition, a monthly stipend for 12 months and moneyfor their textbooks and supplies. The program also provides $2,000 scholarships to American Indian undergraduate students.

Although the program was created in 1992, the three participating universities just started their programs in the last few years. So far, there have been two graduates--one from the University of North Dakota and one from Oklahoma State. The University of Montana began its program only this year.

The North Dakota graduate is working at an Indian Health Service facility and the Oklahoma Stategraduate is a faculty member in North Dakota's counseling psychology program.

This year, the University of North Dakota has eight American Indian graduate students enrolled, and Oklahoma State has funded eight doctoral students in the last two years and plans to graduate another student this year.

Attracting students

INPSYCH also tries to attract American Indian high school and college students to the psychology field by offering summer programs at the University of North Dakota and Oklahoma State. The University of North Dakota's program invites Native American high school juniors and seniors to attend a two-week course focused on building a strong foundation for college behavioral science courses.

Oklahoma State's seven-week program targets undergraduate students. It's designed to expose American Indian students to research, clinical and education activities. Participants work with faculty and graduate students on research projects, they're placed with a tribal health-care or social services agency one to two days each week and given the opportunity to shadow a mental health-care provider. Participants also attend weekly seminars on topics ranging from ethics to research design to tribal law.

In the last two years, 27 undergraduate students have participated in the program at Oklahoma State, says Chaney, and 40 percent have been accepted to graduate psychology programs across the country.

In addition, Oklahoma State provides outreach to high school students by participating in career days at local schools and inviting students to its campus during the school year.

Separate from INPSYCH, Utah State University created the American Indian Support Project, which currently receives financial support from the university. However, it would receive federal funding if INPSYCH funding were extended to Utah State, says Levitt of APA.

Under the current program a full-time American Indian faculty member recruits master's and doctoral level American Indian students, provides support and teaches multicultural courses. American Indian students who want to enroll at Utah State compete only against each other for admission.

Students can be accepted on a provisional basis, allowing them to prove they can handle the coursework, and a full-time American Indian graduate assistant is available for tutoring and student support.

Since 1986, the psychology department at Utah State has graduated 30 master's and doctoral American Indian students, says Carolyn Barcus, EdD, a psychology professor at Utah State University and president of the Society of Indian Psychologists.

APA's Minority Fellowship Program also encourages American Indians to pursue doctoral degrees in psychology. Last year the program funded six American Indians at an average scholarship of $10,000, says James M. Jones, PhD, the program's director. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the National Institute of Mental Health fund the program.

Programs like these may help ease the shortage of American Indian psychologists but, experts say, more are needed. For instance, there are many American Indians in California and the Southwest, but there aren't any training programs like the INPSYCH program specifically for those regions, says Teresa D. LaFromboise, PhD, an associate professor at Stanford University.

"There aren't enough of us going into the field," says Chaney, a member of the Creek Nation. "It's incumbent on us to get them interested."

Further Reading

For more information about these programs, visit the Oklahoma State University web site at http://psychology.okstate.edu/grant/aiip. html, the University of North Dakota web site at http://www.und.nodak.edu/org/inpsyde/, the Utah State University web site at http://www.coe.usu.edu/psyc/AISP/, and the APA Web Site at APA's minority fellowship program.