Government Relations Update

With the unemployment rate hovering around 10 percent, APA is advocating for some of the people who need help most: the unemployed.

APA’s Education Directorate Government Relations Office is asking Congress to expand the federal Graduate Psychology Education (GPE) program to fund the education and training of psychologists who will provide psychological services to out-of-work people, among other underserved populations.

Expecting congressional approval of the program’s expansion, APA is now encouraging applicants to focus on this population or include them as one of their targeted populations.

“The impact of unemployment on psychological health is huge,” says David Blustein, PhD, author of “The Psychology of Working” (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2006) and professor at Boston College’s counseling, developmental and educational psychology department. According to Blustein, the current round of unemployment touches all socioeconomic levels but most severely hurts the poor and working class, as well as people of color and young adults.

Unemployed Americans are four times more likely than those with jobs to have severe mental illness, including major depression, according to a nationwide survey by Mental Health America and the National Alliance on Mental Illness in collaboration with the Depression is Real Coalition, a group of physicians, patients and constituents leading an educational campaign about depression. Being out of work also can exacerbate compulsive behaviors and substance abuse, says the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The 8-year-old GPE program funds mental and behavioral health services for people who otherwise could not access care. GPE already funds the education and training of psychologists who work with such underserved populations as children, older adults, chronically ill people, and victims of abuse and trauma (including veterans). When accredited doctoral, internship and postdoctoral residency programs receive GPE grants, they provide interdisciplinary training to psychology graduate students, who learn how to treat the specific needs of underserved people and use these new skills in real-time service.

The GPE program supports training at 18 sites and aims to support an additional 10 sites this fall. Funding for the GPE program for FY 2010 is $3 million, but APA’s Education Directorate Government Relations Office has requested $7 million for FY 2011 — an amount that would allow for up to 45 programs across the country to target unemployed and other underserved populations.

Current GPE grantee Terri Weaver, PhD, who directs St. Louis University’s Pediatric-Psychology Partnership for Abuse Prevention, believes targeting the unemployed would help her clients, who include survivors of partner violence. “A risk factor for the onset of domestic violence is poverty,” says Weaver. “Financial stress plays a huge role, especially because we have a lot of single and teen moms.”

According to Weaver, unemployment among her female clients keeps them tied to abusive — but employed — partners. Her program provides “safety planning” and refers women to an organization that teaches financial empowerment. Psychology graduate students also help clients deal with abuse that threatens employment and on-the-job productivity.

Cindy Juntunen, PhD, of the University of North Dakota, is applying for a GPE grant to address unemployment in her state’s rural areas and their Native American communities. Her proposed GPE-funded program would train psychology graduates to help people find satisfying work in areas with limited job availability. Such training would stress the importance of adapting to the job market’s changing demands, she says.

Increased funding for unemployment-focused psychology training could help shift psychology education to a more balanced emphasis on the significance of work. According to Blustein, psychology education often overshadows vocational issues with relational issues, even though work is as central to life as relationships. GPE could train budding psychologists to better use vocational psychology strategies, such as assessing transferrable skills and helping clients access 21st century job training in their communities, he says.

In turn, GPE has the potential to “develop new training models that infuse a focus on work-based issues into professional psychological education,” Blustein says.

Miriam Berg is the legislative assistant for APA’s Education Government Relations Office.

For more information, go to the APA Education Government Relations Office website.