January 1st, 2017

Internship program eliminated

The Connecticut Psychological Association is asking the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) to reconsider its decision to eliminate the Connecticut Valley Psychology Internship Program, which was first established in 1947.

Clinical psychologist Traci Cipriano, JD, Ph.D, CPA’s director of professional affairs and a graduate of the internship herself, said that the CPA’s President-elect, Christopher Rigling, Psy.D., MBA – also a graduate of the internship – immediately initiated CPA’s advocacy efforts to save the program when he learned about the state’s decision to eliminate it in 2017 as part of budget cuts.

Cipriano said the CPA has been reaching out to state leaders in all branches of government; notified its members and collected the names of several individuals interested in signing a petition to save the internship; and reached out to the APA and the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers for guidance and support.

“There’s a shortage of internship programs across the country,” Cipriano said. “So, to lose one is really unfortunate, but for this particular program, because it’s a public mental health program it serves the Medicaid community in Middlesex County and this is a population that might not otherwise have access to the level of care provided.”

Cipriano said the interns do extensive intake and it’s unclear how their services in the community will be replaced.

“It is certainly an access issue,” Cipriano said. “I’d say it affects access long-term because now fewer psychologists will get training in community psychology or be exposed to community psychology, and as a result be less likely to seek out positions in community psychology.”

Diana Lejardi, MPH, public information officer for the state DMHAS, said via email, “Unfortunately, due to the challenging fiscal climate in our state, the Connecticut Valley Psychology Internship Program will end on August 18, 2017. The decision was not an easy one as we recognize the importance of quality training programs for new practitioners, however, budget limitations forced the elimination of the program so that we could focus available resources on core services.”

As part of the year-long internship, three interns are based at River Valley Services in Middletown, but their internship also includes rotations at Whiting Forensic Institute in Middletown and Blue Hills Hospital in Hartford.

The interns work with clients with mental health and substance use disorders. The interns build up their caseload as their internship progresses, carrying 7-8 cases at River Valley Services as well as one testing case, three cases at Whiting Forensic Institute and a couple of cases as part of their rotation at Blue Hills Hospital, Lejardi said. The cost to run the program is roughly $500,000, Lejardi said.

“(The Connecticut) mental health system has been recognized publicly as a model system, a high-quality system, but with our current budget difficulties, we’re worried that is going to be put at risk,” Cipriano said. The Connecticut internship is the oldest of its kind in the country, Cipriano said.

CPA says the loss of the training program will have a ripple effect through the behavioral healthcare system
in Connecticut for years to come.

Internship tends to ground trainees in a geographic location, because of both trainees beginning to foster professional contacts, as well as the convenience of not having to relocate for post-graduate training and work.

The CPA cites APA research that states approximately 56 percent of interns remain and practice in the state after graduation (the research was the result of a collaboration between the APA Education Directorate and the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students).

Cipriano said this is a loss for specialists in community psychology.

“We also wonder if this will just reflect the devaluation of psychologists in general,” Cipriano said. “We appreciate that there are budget constraints and something has to go. But what does this mean for the status of psychologists?”

By Pamela Berard

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