Since the creation of the Faculty of Science’s doctor of psychology (PsyD) program in 2009, 21 of the 36 graduates, or nearly 60 per cent, have stayed in Newfoundland and Labrador.
However, the suspension of one of the province’s two residency programs for clinical psychologists may have an impact on the number who choose to remain in the future.
“Residency is a 1,600-hour, intensive, one-year internship, which is the final step before students can complete our program and become a registered psychologist,” said Dr. Sheila Garland, the PsyD director of clinical training.
“In this province there are only two accredited psychology residency programs: Eastern Health, which is now suspended for a year, and Memorial’s Student Wellness and Counselling Centre (SWCC). However, the client populations for each are very different, and not all of our students feel the SWCC can give them the experience they want.”
She says that means more students are going to be looking outside of the province for residency placements, and some may not return.
The PsyD program is an ongoing collaboration between Memorial’s Department of Psychology, the Student Wellness and Counselling Centre, Eastern Health and the Association of Psychology, Newfoundland and Labrador.
“When there are not enough psychologists in Eastern Health and other regions to run the residency program, it also hurts our program.”
It trains doctoral-level clinical psychologists to practise in a wide range of settings through intensive course work and supervised experience and was the first English-speaking PsyD program to be accredited by the Canadian Psychological Association in 2017.
“As a small program, we do a great job of training future psychologists, but our capacity is limited,” said Dr. Garland. “We accept a cohort of six students each year, not because we want to, but because that’s the number that can be supported by our current faculty resources and outside training partners, like Eastern Health.
“Because of the interconnected nature of our program, when there are not enough psychologists in Eastern Health and other regions to run the residency program, it also hurts our program because our students lose out on practicum placements.”
However, Dr. Garland says the program is trying to come up with some alternatives for students wishing to remain in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“The clinic could help take some of the pressure off of other psychologists.”
She says accreditation standards for residency are “tricky” to meet.
“Students need to have a diversity of experiences and it needs to be comprehensive. We are trying to piece something together that would be equivalent to an internship using psychologists in private practice, but it would require additional oversight to ensure it meets the same standards. Otherwise, our students might not receive the same quality of training they would get from an accredited program.”
The PsyD program and the Faculty of Science also have a longer-term plan to address the problem of access to psychologists in the province. One of these plans is the possibility of opening a low/no-cost community clinic.
Right now, it’s $210 an hour to see a private psychologist, which has gone up recently from $180. That means private psychological services are not feasible for some, even with insurance.
“If we can provide a sliding scale model as a community mental health provider, not only could we contribute to the training of the next generation of psychologists, who would then go on to work in the public health system, but we could also serve the community better,” said Dr. Garland. “And, as a training clinic, we would be providing the most current evidence-based treatments, which certainly would be another benefit to our clients.”
Dr. Christina Thorpe is the head of the Department of Psychology. She says the biggest challenge to moving forward is resources. Currently, there are five faculty running the program; ideally, there would be eight faculty, plus a clinic director.
“We’d also need more office and lab space for them. Then there are the administrative and assessment costs of running a clinic. The clinic could help take some of the pressure off of other psychologists, as well as give our students a better range of experiences. Then hopefully we would be able to increase the number of PsyD students we train in the future.”
Dr. Travis Fridgen, dean of the Faculty of Science, says Memorial’s strategic plan prioritizes student supports and has a mandate to train professionals.
“The mental health clinic under consideration will allow us to support our own undergraduate and graduate students, as well as the broader community. It will also provide a rich training environment for our future health professionals.”