Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology Addresses Rural Health Care Needs

The newest doctoral degree program at Eastern Kentucky University will address a significant health care void, particularly in rural Kentucky.

The University’s newly-approved Psy.D. program in Clinical Psychology, designed to prepare psychology practitioners, will focus on preparing practitioners to work in underserved rural areas when it launches in Fall 2015. The curriculum will provide opportunities for specialized training in substance abuse, mental health administration, school-based mental health, suicide risk assessment and prevention, and working with traditionally underserved populations, including veterans and their families, adults and children with developmental disabilities, and individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing. Additional specialized training opportunities will include forensic psychology and applied behavior analysis.

This will be the first practice-oriented Psy.D. program at a public university in Kentucky. Spalding University in Louisville offers the only other Psy.D. program in the Commonwealth; the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville offer research-oriented Ph.D. degrees in the field.

In its 2009 Grading the States report, the National Alliance on Mental Illness gave Kentucky’s mental health system, along with four other states, an “F.”

 “There is a great need for clinical psychologists, particularly in rural areas,” said Dr. Dustin Wygant, director of clinical training, who will head the program. “The specialization in rural mental health will prepare graduates to work in the areas experiencing the greatest need for mental health services. In addition, the program will increase the number of qualified doctoral-level supervisors required by Kentucky law to oversee the practice of master’s level psychologists. The scarcity of doctoral-level supervisors has been a significant problem for rural mental health agencies for many years.”

The program builds on EKU’s long-standing and highly successful master’s degree program in clinical psychology, which likewise has a long history of preparing students to provide behavioral health care services in traditionally underserved regions. The doctoral students will benefit from many partnerships the Department of Psychology already enjoys with sites providing practicum and internship opportunities.

The program and its students will also benefit from the guidance and support of a Psy.D. Program Advisory Board comprised of professionals representing such area agencies, organizations and institutions as the Federal Medical Center, Kentucky Department of Corrections, Pathways Inc., The Adanta Group, Lexington VAMC, Bluegrass Comprehensive Care, Eastern State Hospital and the EKU Counseling Center.

Wygant said the emphasis on rural mental health “will be attractive to students in our region who wish to learn advanced clinical skills and remain in the Commonwealth. Each year between eight and ten graduates of our current M.S. Clinical Psychology program go on to doctoral programs, typically Psy.D. programs. Most have ties to Kentucky and would welcome the opportunity to earn a doctorate at EKU.”

Wygant noted a recent survey of EKU psychology majors that indicated nearly 80 percent anticipate going on to graduate school. “A number of these students either wish to pursue graduate work locally or are place bound and thus unable to leave the region. Offering the Psy.D. degree at EKU will serve these students.”

The presence of doctoral students, working under the supervision of the faculty, will also allow the EKU Department of Psychology to expand mental health services currently offered through its own Psychology Clinic, which provides affordable, evidence-based services to adults, children and families in the University’s service region and beyond, and open additional opportunities for undergraduate clinical psychology co-op placements.

Dr. Robert Brubaker, chair of EKU’s Department of Psychology, added that the new program will “provide another avenue for doctoral-level education for Kentuckians.”

EKU’s Psy.D. degree program, approved by the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education on Sept. 16, will accept 12 students in its inaugural cohort in Fall 2015, and students may begin to apply in December. For more information, contact Dr. Dustin Wygant at dustin.wygant@eku.edu or 859-622-6796.

Published on September 19, 2014

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