More Than Meets the Eye
Sandra Baker ’15 had been working as a counselor for years before she arrived at Alverno to earn her master’s degree. “The field of counseling was changing,” she says. “To be effective and to help my clients in the best way, I needed to get the best education that I could.”
She found that in Alverno’s Master of Science in Community Psychology (MSCP) program. “You really need to understand the people you’re working with. That’s the core of what Alverno teaches,” she says. “You are not the expert. The people you’re working with are. If you cannot understand the lenses through which they’re looking at their lives, then you cannot help them.”
This perspective continues to guide Baker’s work as a therapist at Meta House, where she counsels Milwaukee-area women who have a history of substance abuse and/or mental health issues. And it guides the 100-plus men and women who have graduated from the MSCP program since 2011.
“Our graduates are passionate about helping their clients and their communities thrive,” says program director Kim Skerven. “This perspective is a strength of Community Psychology. Our graduates enter the counseling field with a deep appreciation for the fact that promoting mental health can happen at multiple levels.”
CRITICAL COMMUNITY NEEDS
One in five. That’s the number of adults across the United States who experience mental illness in a given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
“These disorders definitely don’t discriminate. They’re seen in every class, race, gender and cultural background,” says Mollie Jenkins ’15, a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner with ProHealth Care.
Where disparities arise is in access to care. In a recent survey, NAMI found that almost half of the 60 million adults and children who were dealing with mental health conditions weren’t being treated due to such factors as being underinsured or lacking insurance as well as difficulty finding in-network providers.
Wisconsin is no exception to the nationwide shortages of mental health care providers. At the end of 2017, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 75 percent of mental health needs are going unmet in urban and rural communities around Wisconsin that are home to 2.25 million people.
And those needs are diverse. Mental health professionals treat patients dealing with anything from anxiety and depression to substance abuse to trauma. Different populations of people require specialized treatment plans and settings.
For instance, there’s a growing need for school psychologists. These highly trained professionals can assess and create intervention plans to help youth in schools who are struggling with academics and/or experiencing social or behavioral issues. Nationwide, the profession is expected to grow by 20 percent between 2014 and 2024, creating more than 30,000 new positions.
In response to the growing need for school psychologists, Alverno plans to launch a graduate-level School Psychology program. Students will earn the advanced degree that allows them to become licensed school psychologists in Wisconsin.
“This degree allows you to make a difference with children in an educational setting. The demand for well-prepared school psychologists has never been stronger,” says Patricia Luebke, dean of the School of Professional Studies. “At Alverno, we are committed to educating a new generation of school psychologists to serve as collaborative and culturally sensitive advocates who are ready to respond to the complex needs of today’s children, youth and families.”
Amid a growing recognition that mental health is closely intertwined with physical health, providers are learning how to better communicate and collaborate.
“We’re trying to increase the integration between the different specialties and primary care providers,” says ProHealth Care’s Jenkins. “We recognize that we all need to work together.”
This holistic approach to care is embedded in Alverno’s curriculum, which takes a multidisciplinary approach. As a result, students are better prepared for today’s evolving professional settings.
Take Akudo Chioma, a registered nurse currently enrolled in Alverno’s Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) program. Chioma works at Milwaukee’s Clement J. Zablocki Veterans Affairs Medical Center, where she helps military veterans manage their medications. She’s an important piece of a bigger picture. As a member of an interdisciplinary team that includes social workers, psychologists and an occupational therapist, Chioma and her colleagues support homeless veterans and their families as they work to obtain permanent housing.
In Alverno’s PMHNP program, registered nurses develop the advanced clinical skills to assess, diagnose and treat mental health issues. The credential, Chioma says, will enable her to work with veterans in an inpatient setting, addressing a broader range of mental health issues. She’ll be able to diagnose conditions, prescribe medications and work with patients to take preventive measures for improved mental health. It’s another way for her to deepen the perspective she brings to her work.
“It can be daunting — you have to have a lot of patience,” says Chioma, who has worked at the VA for nearly 12 years. “It is my joy to graduate them once they are stable and maintaining housing. I’ve seen a lot of success stories.”
This article originally appeared in the spring 2018 issue of Alverno Magazine.