PsyD Doctoral Student Trainees Intern with TriHealth

Nov 6, 2019

A student who comes to Xavier’s new Health Services office for a medical issue will be seen by a physician on site. But if in addition to their flu symptoms or sprained ankle they mention anxiety or stress, now they may also be seen at the same time by a Xavier psychology doctoral student in training.

Assistant Professor of Psychology Jennifer Phillips, in her second year at Xavier, is leading a program to train Xavier students studying for their Doctor of Clinical Psychology (PsyD) degree to offer psychological counseling to Xavier students in their doctors’ offices in the new Health United Building (HUB), which just opened for the fall semester.

The students will support the physicians and nurse practitioners from TriHealth, Xavier’s partner in the development and construction of the HUB, where health-related academic classes, a new recreation center and the health center are all located under one roof.

Phillips said the pilot program was created to provide doctoral students with practicum experience in a clinical setting and to help alleviate a growing trend in medical offices, where patients are showing signs of mental health issues during visits with their primary care physician. If the doctor does not have counseling services on site, the patient is usually referred to more traditional counseling elsewhere. Although some patients follow up with these referrals, many do not, for a multitude of reasons.  

The solution, known as “health care psychology in medical settings,” is to have a psychologist on site, embedded with the physician, who is available to see the patient at the same time if a mental health issue comes up.

“There is a movement in health care toward integrated primary care which means that primary care physicians who see people for general health problems also see more of the behavioral and stress issues than any other providers," Phillips said. "Providers and patients can benefit from having a behavioral health specialist in the office, who can spend time with the patient discussing these issues.”

The first doctoral students start working alongside the TriHealth physicians in Health and Counseling Services at the end of November. While Xavier already provides counseling services for students at the same location, the two services are separate. The doctoral students will be part of the health-care team and will be available to see the same patients the doctors are treating at the TriHealth office.

Five students have been trained so far, and each will work under Phillips’ supervision for five to 10 hours a week, which should cover most of Health Services’ normal operating hours, she said.

“One of the benefits is for face-to-face immediate attention to some of these more acute stressors,” she said. “So often people don’t think to see a mental health counselor but rather go to a doctor who is seeing the bulk of these behavioral issues and doesn’t always have time to spend with the patients. Now if someone walks in and is depressed or anxious, they can get the care they need on the physical side, but also talk to someone about their depression.”

Not only do patients get the care they need, the PsyD students also gain experience while working toward the required number of practicum experience hours they must complete during their five-year PsyD program. Students who choose the TriHealth practicum can get five to eight hours a day of face-to-face counseling experience, while also helping Xavier students get better.

That aspect of working with college students was appealing to Lauren Fredriksen, a fourth-year doctoral candidate who is specializing in the health care track. She starts her practicum with TriHealth at the end of November and is looking forward to 10 hours a week in primary care helping her fellow Xavier students on campus, especially since so many more college students are experiencing anxiety and depression.

"It’s why I picked Xavier. I liked that they have the health-care track, and I like Xavier’s mission of serving," Fredriksen said. “This age group is reporting a higher level of stress, and they're more open to getting help for both physical and mental health concerns, so I could learn a lot about what these students are experiencing. The field of psychology is shifting toward this team-based model. In many disorders, there are a lot of physical symptoms that are part of the whole problem.”

Moreover, TriHealth gains from the contributions of the PsyD student trainees as it works to expand this new model of health care throughout Cincinnati. The trainees in turn gain experience in the new model in preparation for employment, possibly even with TriHealth.

“It’s wonderful to have training in this up-and-coming care model on campus,” Phillips said. “It ties into the cura personalis part of Xavier’s mission, care of the whole person, and I think this partnership exemplifies it perfectly.”

By France Sloat, Office of Marketing and Communications

Feature Image: Assistant Professor Jen Phillips, above right, meets with PsyD candidate Lauren Fredriksen about her internship with TriHealth Health Services in the HUB.