Increasing Mental Health Access in New Hampshire Through Federal Grants for Psychology Students

When students begin Antioch University New England’s PsyD in Clinical Psychology program, they might expect that they will work in schools, prisons, and hospitals (as neuropsychologists), in addition to mental health centers and private practice. A grant opportunity, however, aims to give them the option to work in primary care as a way to reach underserved populations that might not otherwise have access to mental health services.

Dr. Vincent Pignatiello is an Antioch clinical psychology graduate who returned to the program after completing his post-doctoral work, to serve as co-chair of the department.

By introducing students to a new setting and type of work “the grant gives students the flexibility to pursue their passions and interests working with primary integrated care,” said Pignatiello.

The grant fits into the original motivation of the program’s founding, to bring more psychologists into New Hampshire, back in 1982. Today it is the only PsyD program in the state that is fully accredited. Pignatiello added that primary care is needed in the community because New England has been affected by an opioid epidemic — the grant strengthens the health workforce and provides prevention and treatment in high-demand areas in New Hampshire and parts of Massachusetts.

This is the second time Antioch has received the Graduate Psychology Education grant (GPE), which is for $326,000 per year for three years. The funding comes from the Health Care Resources and Services Administration, the funder for federally-qualified healthcare centers, authorized by Congress. Included in the award is a tuition offset for six students each year and the time provided by the site to supervise the students.

Dr. Alexander Blount is a professor of clinical psychology at Antioch and is the director of the program.

“When mental health professionals graduate from standard mental health training they are usually ready to do psychotherapy in mental health settings,” said Blount. “But primary care is a very different environment. When mental health people try to function in primary care without additional training and orientation they fail because they don’t understand the culture of primary care — it is faster, more goal-oriented, and more team-based than usual mental health treatment.”

The goal of the program is to train students before they get their degrees, said Blount, and advanced third or fourth-year practicum students work three days a week in their sites.

Haley Curt is a fifth-year student in the Psychology program. She said the most rewarding part of being a grant recipient is working across disciplines to “provide a higher quality of whole-person care and ultimately improve the quality of life of so many patients.”

Sarah Pearson also found that applying for a practicum position through the grant was the perfect next step in her training trajectory.

Said Pearson, a postdoctoral alumna of the program: “The clinical training that I received greatly helped to foster my enthusiasm for being a part of the integrated primary care workforce and better understand the ways that psychologists can add to the education of medical learners, something that I am now pursuing within my postdoctoral fellowship at the same site where I completed this GPE practicum.”

All of the sites involved in the grant are in underserved areas, many of them in rural parts of New Hampshire. Some of the sites include a facility serving low-income patients, including a number of refugees in Concord, and one in Nashua that supports homeless populations.

“This is all about social justice because we are providing services to minority and low-income folks,” said Blount. “Those are the folks who most need behavioral health as part of their care and those are the people who will not go to specialty mental health clinics.”

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