Course Spotlight: Community Mental Health
For someone aspiring toward a career in the field of marriage and family therapy, specifically within the state of California, understanding various agency models and the different types of local community service organizations is critical.
So, when designing the community mental health course offered in The Chicago School of Professional Psychology’s Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology, Marital & Family Therapy Specialization at the Los Angeles, San Diego, and Irvine Campuses, it was important these aspects were reflected in the curriculum.
“Our community mental health course is one of my favorite classes,” says Dr. Nadia Jones, Ed.D., LMFT, and associate professor for the Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology, Marital & Family Therapy Specialization. “The course helps students better understand the basic concepts and principles of community mental health, while also looking at it from a systemic perspective to identify where the field of marriage and family therapy fits in.”
Students who enroll in the course explore concepts of prevention and early intervention, and examine different agency outreach models and how they have evolved. They also use practical service learning opportunities, like shadowing licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFT) who already work at government agencies focused on community mental health or interviewing current LMFTs who are running their own private practice, to gain real-world exposure to what they will encounter during their careers.
“This gives our students the chance to look at all the different types of agencies and organizations they can work at within the field of marriage and family therapy,” Dr. Jones says. “It is a very hands-on class. Students can explore first-hand the different services these agencies provide, what populations they serve, and what theoretical orientations they derive from.”
Students also have a chance to give back to the local community and interact with the underserved populations they soon will be serving as licensed professionals.
In past courses, students worked with organizations such as Homeboy Industries, a nonprofit dedicated to providing “hope, training, and support to formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women allowing them to redirect their lives and become contributing members of our community.” This immersive experience allowed students to hone their counseling skills by developing questions and then interviewing past gang members and recently released prisoners. Students also spoke with the organization’s social worker in charge of the counseling department to learn more about pro bono work, including how to recruit more volunteers as an LMFT.
In another example of service learning, students worked with Union Rescue Mission outside of Los Angeles’s Skid Row. They assembled 20 homeless kits each with soap, socks, underwear, hand sanitizer, toothpaste, toothbrushes, etc., and helped with organizing a clothes drive.
“A couple of my students froze in the moment because they had never been to Skid Row before and, to me, this was fascinating,” Dr. Jones says. “But it was also very important. You must have opportunities like this to engage with and understand the populations that you may be working with. Any MFT program and any kind of psychology program that prides itself on service learning must ensure that their students do not graduate without some type of community service activity like these.”
In future courses, Dr. Jones hopes to form a partnership with PATH, a nonprofit focused on moving homeless individuals off the streets and into permanent housing. She says the service-learning portion of the course could consist of building “Welcome Home” kits filled with some basic essentials for recently housed individuals.
Each of these opportunities in the community mental health course allows students to apply classroom theory in real-world situations by interacting with the community they may one day serve as an LMFT. It also expands a student’s knowledge of both the scope of work that an LMFT can do, and the various types of organizations they could potentially work for.
“The class really helps students understand how the systems work within these various organizations. They also learn about the differences in training they need depending on the specific type of agency they may work for, and the importance of grants for getting a new outreach program off the ground,” Dr. Jones says. “Ultimately, when they get to practicum with us, and further down the road when they begin their career, they’ll already have a very strong base to differentiate and market themselves.”
To learn more about the Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology, Marital & Family Therapy Specialization fill out the form below or you can apply today through our application portal.
Blake C. Pinto
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