William James College in Massachusetts announced its Multicultural and Veterans Mental Health Scholarships, aimed at increasing the number of individuals trained and committed to providing mental health treatment for underserved minorities and military veterans, who experience complex mental health issues but often are reluctant to seeking treatment if they feel disconnected from those providing services, according to the college.
Nicholas Covino, Psy.D., president of William James College, said he hopes the scholarships inspire and empower students to commit themselves to serve historically marginalized populations.
The college cites figures that show almost 90 percent of psychologists are classified as Caucasian/non-Latino.
“In a world that is considerably multicultural, it’s really almost inexcusable that we have this condition,” Covino said. “It’s very difficult for people of color to meet somebody in our profession that looks like them, that sounds like them, that understands more intimately their background and culture.
“In our business, it’s really important to provide that for people who seek our services,” he said.
A better practitioner-client relationship could help keep people from discontinuing services, or help with more accurate diagnoses. “We know, for example, that young black boys and black men are given harsher diagnoses and often less treatment than Caucasian children or men presenting with similar complaints,” Covino said.
Covino said military veterans may also respond better to therapists who have shared similar experiences. “We think the likelihood of them feeling understood and safe and free from judgment and engaged is much higher,” he said.
Scholarship applicants do not have to be a veteran, or from a particular minority group. “It’s an open competition,” Covino said. “And the criteria is not just around race and ethnicity but about other underrepresented groups, as well, so somebody interested in working with the LGBT population, for example, or someone with a significant commitment to working with other underrepresented groups, could be a deserving candidate.”
Initially, the college expects to award scholarships to five students for the 2017-2018 academic year. The program is part of the overall William James scholarship allotment. There are varying levels of scholarships available totaling more than $350,000, which includes a donation from New England Patriots owner Robert K. Kraft.
The Multicultural and Veterans Mental Health Scholarships are designed to scale and are forecasted to hit the $1 million mark in coming years.
Covino hopes the scholarships encourage prospective students to turn their head toward psychology and bring leadership and mentors into the area. “We need to incentivize people from military and multicultural backgrounds to see that this is an important career for them and traditionally scholarships have had a way of doing that in any discipline,” he said. “We need to shine a light on the field.”
Covino said the curriculum at the college has become more diversified in the past decade, with a program for military and veterans’ psychology, for example, and a program specializing in Latino mental health that has led to an increase in the number of staff and faculty who are Spanish speaking.
The number of students who are self-identified as minorities has grown in recent years, leading to a more diverse learning environment.
“The learning culture has changed for the better,” Covino said. “One of the most important things that a mental health professional does is help people to understand differences,” Covino said. “For us to be doing that as part of the learning environment is really critical.”