Easterseals expands Department of Psychology & Wellness

By Jim Schroeder, Ph.D.
Special to The Message

On July 1, 2019, three women with a combined 28 years of college education walked through the doors at the Easterseals Rehabilitation Center to start their pre-doctoral internship. Eight months prior, none of them had ever heard of Evansville, Indiana. But with the goal of finishing their final year of graduate education before earning their doctorates in psychology, they relocated to Southwestern Indiana.

Eight months later, around 130 new clients and families had been served at Easterseals. That simply would not have happened if the new Internship in Clinical Psychology program did not exist. In each of these cases, these are families who may have had to wait for up to a year to receive psychology services; families who had lost a parent to suicide; whose child is failing school; whose 8-year-old doesn’t sleep at night; or whose 4-year-old has such significant behavioral problems that home life is just a mess.

These are kids whose autistic difficulties leave parents clueless about how to engage with them, or parents whose teenager is depressed and threatening to run away. And yet, because of the pre-doctoral internship at Easterseals, they all have had access to timely, affordable, excellent services.

Expanding Easterseals’ Department of Psychology and Wellness is essential to meeting the critical, growing need for mental health services, a crisis that impacts hundreds or even thousands of local children and families. We introduced the Internship in Clinical Psychology Program to have an immediate impact ― dramatically increasing our capacity for psychology services from 1,000 patient visits annually to 4,000 and reducing our 12-month waitlist to 2-3 months. But the demand continues to grow, and so must we.

It has been almost 2 decades since the Evansville-area had an accredited pre-doctoral internship, but never is it needed more than now. Our community deserves that a program like this become part of our community for generations to come. Beyond all of the increased access this internship provides for high-quality pediatric psychology services, there is something maybe even more important. It gives a clear reason for committed, compassionate, talented psychology professionals to relocate (or return) to Evansville for the long-term, many of whom have never considered doing so. Statistics indicate that 50% or more of professionals trained at this level will stay to practice nearby. And when this happens, the positive impact goes far beyond what has already been mentioned.

But the pre-doctoral internship is just one area in which the Department of Psychology and Wellness is expanding. For decades our community has recognized the tremendous need for psychology services, especially for youth; but admittedly we have fallen short of meeting the demand. Nationwide, neuropsychiatric disorders are the No. 1 most disabling conditions in areas such as early mortality and reduced quality of life, for both youth and adults. More than heart disease, cancer, diabetes and infectious disease of any kind, psychological difficulties significantly impact individuals and their families, often over multiple generations. Today, the
rate of diagnosis for severely mentally disabled children is 30 times more than it was three decades ago. To suggest that our country is experiencing crisis-like levels with regard to mental health difficulties isn’t alarmist, it is reality.

The psychology department has been an integral part of the Easterseals Rehabilitation Center for nearly six decades, but in much smaller capacity. In addition to offering comprehensive, multi-disciplinary assessments for youth and adult counseling services, the department now provides a wide-range of intervention services, including individual, family and group therapy. Services are provided to clients from a wide range of ages, ethnicities, socioeconomic status, family situations and presenting concerns. No one is ever turned away due to inability to pay. The department is founded on three pillars: high-quality clinical services, a full educational model based on the scientist-practitioner paradigm, and innovative community outreach services. In addition to a psychology pre-doctoral internship program, the Department of Psychology & Wellness will serve as a training site for students at the undergraduate, postdoctoral and psychiatric resident levels. The department serves approximately 30 counties in the Tri-State area, which includes Southwestern Indiana, Southern Illinois and Western Kentucky.

So how can you be part of this movement and this mission? First, please pray for this cause and the people who are a part of it. We can use all of the human and divine support we can get.

Second, think about what kind of talent and passion you have, and how this might be an asset to our department. We would love to have a conversation with you about this.

Third, consider not just financially supporting our initial expansion, but setting up an endowment that can help us sustain this program through the next century. One-time or annual gifts can be allocated for all sorts of areas that maintain the kind of program that “counsels the doubtful” and does much more. No gift is too small, and if you have questions about how funds can be used or any other inquiry, please contact Dr. Jim Schroeder ([email protected] or 812-479-1411), the Vice President of the Department of Psychology and Wellness. It really does take a village to support a program and a ministry like this. Truly, we are God’s hands and feet on earth for those who need it most, including those who desire peace of mind as we all do.

Schroeder is vice-president of psychological services for Easterseals Rehabilitation Center.