Guest Opinion: Master’s Program Is A Boon For Mental Health In Utah | News, Sports, Jobs

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Heather Sundahl

We’ve all heard the bad joke about someone calling the suicide hotline – and being put on hold. The truth is not too far off. Even before the pandemic, Utah shortage of mental health therapists was severe. A recent national study ranked each state by its rate of mental illness and access to care. Utah came in last, which means a lot of our population needs help and can’t get it. Corn UVU Marriage and Family Therapy program tries to do something about it.

UVU has always been very community-oriented, and when it saw the need, it created the MFT program, which trains master’s students to become therapists. The MFT program is one of three clinical master’s programs at UVU, the other two being social work and clinical mental health counselling. Over the past two years, MFT students have provided over 22,000 hours of therapy to the local community.

Program Director Elizabeth Fawcett, Ph.D., said, “Our first cohort of students graduated last May and we couldn’t be more proud of them. All of our graduates are licensed and working as therapists. We have another incredible group of students preparing to graduate in May 2022.”

Each year, between 20 and 24 MFT graduates enter the field and ease some of the burden felt by therapists across the state, who too often must put potential clients on months-long waiting lists. Unfortunately, even when clients can find a therapist taking on new clients, they often do not take out insurance. This can leave the most economically vulnerable populations with few options.

UVU’s Marriage and Family Therapy program is also trying to address this issue with their Community Mental Health Clinic, open to individuals, couples and families. It is easily accessible by public transportation, staffed by licensed clinicians in training, and supervised by experienced therapists, at little or no cost to the client.

Clinic Director Derek Larsen says, “Our mission is to develop effective therapists and help increase access to mental health services for the uninsured, underinsured and disadvantaged. We appreciate the newly renovated space UVU has given us to begin growing and for the ongoing relocation plans that promise even greater growth for the clinic as well as our mental health programs.

When BYU’s clinic wait list is eight weeks and Wasatch Behavioral Health has a long gap between admission and seeing a therapist, the need to increase affordable places in Utah County is urgent. And while Utah can be extremely homogenous — white and LDS — UVU’s MFT program prides itself on having several therapists who are native Spanish speakers. This year’s cohort even includes a student proficient in sign language, who plans to work with Utah’s underserved deaf population.

While any education is valuable, rarely does a program solve two of our most pressing issues as a society – a shortage of mental health therapists and the need for affordable and accessible mental health counselling. Well done Wolverins. Good game.

Heather Sundahl is a writer and editor for the Utah Women and Leadership Project. Sundahl is a student in the master’s program in marriage and family therapy.


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