Feature

Ted Strickland, PhD, was elected governor of Ohio in the fall of 2006. When he assumed office in January 2007, Gov. Strickland became the first psychologist to hold any state's top office. At this year's APA Annual Convention, APA President Sharon Stephens Brehm, PhD, honored Strickland with an APA Presidential Citation in recognition of his many years of public service and his numerous contributions to psychology, the people of Ohio and the nation.

A few days before the awarding of the APA citation, Gov. Strickland sat down for an interview with Monitor on Psychology Executive Editor Rhea K. Farberman.

Q: How has your psychology training impacted your approach to public policy and governing?

A: The training I have had in psychology helps me be sensitive to the importance of research and data. What I have come to understand, as I have been in the political environment going on 13 years now, is that so much of public policy is based on personal impressions or prejudices or opinion that are sometimes divorced from what we can know through research. My training in psychology has helped me avoid embracing certain assumptions that have never been subjected to scientific analysis or scrutiny. That helped me as a congressman and it's helped me as governor. I believe in the scientific method-there are serious problems facing Ohio, the country and the world that can best be dealt with utilizing the information that is available to us through scientific and behavioral research.

Q: The Ohio state legislature passed a mental health parity bill last fall. How strong is it?

A: As you may or may not know, the bill was passed in the final weeks of the last legislature during the so-called lame-duck session after I was elected but before I was sworn into office. I believe it was a step forward; but it's not a particularly strong parity bill in terms of its breadth in the range of conditions covered. Quite frankly, I believe it passed when it passed because I had won the election in November and had been very outspoken about my support for a comprehensive parity bill. I think the Republican-controlled legislature, knowing that I was coming into office, decided that the parity bill that they passed would likely be less demanding on the insurance industry than the parity bill that I would have pursued.

Q: As you know, APA is working hard to have a strong national parity bill passed in Congress. How would such legislation help the people of Ohio?

A: It is my hope that we will have a strong national parity bill passed. It is my hope that it will be even stronger than what we now have in Ohio.

If that were the case it will have a couple of effects. One, it will make provisions available, services available to people who are now doing without. Secondly, I think it will have an anti-stigma effect in that problems related to one's mental and emotional health will not be treated in a different way.

I can tell you that something is happening here in Ohio that does concern me even after the passage of our parity bill. There is at least one provider that has unilaterally decided to significantly reduce reimbursements for psychologists. Although it's speculation on my part, I think there's reason to believe that it may be a way for the insurance company to negate the effects of having to provide parity. Rather than deal with it directly, they decided to reduce what they are willing to reimburse for mental health services. The effect is that many psychologists are finding that they can not continue to provide services to the clients of this company. That I find very troublesome, and I'm asking the [Ohio] Department of Insurance to look into it.

As governor I have no direct authority for the contractual relationship between this company and its providers, but if we can establish that as a result of this behavior on the part of the insurance company patients are now not getting the service they were promised, that's something that we could use as a way of dealing with this problem.

Q: How big a problem is untreated mental illness in your state? In prison systems, for example? To what degree does untreated mental illness demand resources in other venues?

A: It's an absolutely huge problem seen in both our adult system and the department of youth services. I've been concerned for years, well before I became a public servant, about the lack of in-patient treatment, especially for young people. I believe that due to the lack of in-patient care that we are losing people, and we run the risk of losing especially young people, to suicide.

Our prison system is seriously overcrowded. In Ohio we have over 49,000 incarcerated adults. Some percentage of them are individuals with histories of serious mental illness. Unfortunately, it's very difficult to provide appropriate mental health care in a jail or a prison environment.

Q: What's the solution?

A: Mental health courts are part of the answer. Improved mental health services while a person is incarcerated and efforts to have appropriate post-discharge planning and follow-through are so important.

Q: Switching gears now, Governor; you mentioned earlier a letter you received recently. Can you tell our readers about it?

A. Yes, I received this letter just a few days ago. It was from a set of parents whose son, a high school junior, had just taken his own life as a result of the aggressive bullying that he had experienced in school. So, I've thought a lot about that in the last few days. How to try to have an impact on the social and cultural environment in our public schools? I'm trying to approach this from the standpoint of what we know about aggressive types of bullying behavior and what we know from research about how to help young people be more robust in their ability to deal with bullying.

As I think about this and talking with my staff and our Department of Education, I don't want us to tackle this problem just based on what may seem reasonable for us to do at the moment, but to try to look at the research that is available. We are going to have a relevant response to these parents. It may be a training program throughout all of our schools. What I'm trying to say here is that we need to proceed based on the best information we have available to us regarding these kinds of circumstances that are apparently quite prevalent in the schools.

Q: Anything else you would like to say to your fellow psychologists?

A: I'll just say to you what I've said many times in the past. That is that I am very proud of my profession. I think psychology has more to offer perhaps than any other single profession in the development of public policy. Our profession is devoted to research and it's research that deals with the complexities of human experience and human behavior. There is so much we can gain from psychological research and behavioral research if we utilized it and used it to guide the development of public policy we would have policies that were more effective than many that we seem to pursue.