Meet six psychology students who, thanks to the Graduate
Psychology Education program, are learning cutting-edge techniques
to bring mental health care to underserved people.
BY FRANCESCA DI MEGLIO
Imagine working side by side with physicians to help a woman who comes to the emergency room thinking she is dying
but is really having a panic attack. You slow her breathing and
lower her heart rate by asking her to visualize herself in a green
meadow, safe and calm. Later, you explain how her heart rate’s
natural fluctuations can trigger a cycle of fear and physiological
responses that could lead anyone to the ER. Armed with this new
knowledge, the woman calms herself when her next panic attack
arises — avoiding further medical bills that she can’t afford.
Two University of Arkansas psychology grad students treat
such patients every day at Community Clinic, thanks to the
federal Graduate Psychology Education (GPE) program. Created
in 2002, GPE provides $3 million a year to 20 doctoral programs,
hospitals and clinics that train psychology students to work with
physicians, nurses, dieticians, audiologists and others to reach
medically underserved populations. At the University of Arkansas,
that funding also supports monthly discussions on the economic
and social forces that affect the health of underserved populations
and a course on integrated health care.
The Community Clinic, a nonprofit federally qualified health
center, offers comprehensive health care to about 25,000 patients
each year. Of these patients, the University of Arkansas’ GPE
trainees see about 600 for issues including depression and anxiety,
help with managing diabetes, lowering blood pressure or even
handling children with behavior problems, says University of
Arkansas psychology professor Ana Julia Bridges, PhD.
“We are redefining clinical psychology as a health profession,
and not just a mental health profession,” she says.
A patient-centered curriculum
In one day, a trainee might see up to 15 patients for a variety of
“You might be called to help a mom manage the behavior of
her 22-month-old baby, a senior who recently lost her husband
and is mourning and dealing with grief, and a 14-year-old who
is depressed,” says Debbie Gomez, a clinical psychology student
who is completing her practicum in the clinic. “There’s always
more to be learned and more experience to gain.”
To prepare for the clinic, the students take courses in
integrated care, diversity and medical consultation.