The pandemic has contributed to longer waitlists to see clinical psychologists both locally and nationally, and people are turning to crisis services as a last resort to get help. A new Doctor of Psychology program at Missouri State University could lead to more local candidates filling needed positions in the mental health services industry.
The announcement that Missouri State University will develop a Doctor of Psychology program comes at a time when the nationwide network of mental health service providers is showing strain.
According to a fall 2021 American Psychological Association practitioner survey, psychologists reported year-over-year pandemic-era increases of patients seeking treatment for anxiety, depression and trauma- and stress-related disorders. The APA survey links the increased demand for treatment with increased workloads for psychologists, with 68 percent of respondents saying waitlists have grown longer since the start of the pandemic, and 65 percent of respondents saying they’d run up against their capacity to take on new patients.
In Springfield, local trends mirror national ones, said National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) Southwest Missouri executive director Stephanie Appleby.
“The demand has increased significantly since the pandemic,” she said. “We can’t get people in to see a therapist for months at a time.”
That logjam can create a cascade of problems, she said, especially for people who are underinsured. This group often includes the working poor or homeless, many of whom the NAMI Southwest Missouri staff works with directly to access mental health services in Springfield or to provide them free of charge.
But Appleby said that if someone is having a psychotic episode and can’t get an appointment — and the following treatment — they can turn to self-medicating and substance abuse. That can lead to problems with the law, then jail time, where they are then being treated for mental health disorders while in custody.
Those who don’t self-medicate might instead seek emergency assistance, she said.
“I’ve had to send someone to the hospital just to get medication,” she said.
But that’s a last resort, Appleby said, as they exhaust every other avenue first.
When people don’t have access to scheduled mental health services — either because of staffing shortages or accessibility issues — it can lead to more crisis-based decision-making in times of duress, said Stephanie Appleby of NAMI Southwest Missouri.
“When you’re dealing with a crisis, you do what you’ve got to do,” Appleby said.
Between unavailability and financial access to services, there were no other options for the person. As more people experience those situations, she said, the mental health care system, as a whole, bogs down.
Burrell’s investment in MSU program comes as more people seek crisis care
At Burrell Behavioral Health, which is initially investing $500,000 annually for four years and providing clinical opportunities for students to help start the MSU Doctor of Psychology program, the staff has reported an increased need for emergency services during the pandemic.
The 24-hour Burrell Behavioral Health Crisis Line received 25 percent more calls in 2021 than in 2020, spokesperson Matthew Lemmon said. About two years ago, Burrell’s Behavioral Crisis Center at 800 S. Park Ave. opened. The center, which supplies immediate care to anyone 18 or over who walks through the 24-7 doors, treated 1,500 people in its first year, “and we’ve seen it go up since then,” Lemmon said.
“We’ve worked really hard to make that possible, because you don’t plan a crisis,” Lemmon said. “And when you’re in a crisis, you need help. That is a fact independent of whether we have a waitlist for more outpatient services or not. The intention of those crisis services that we’ve built out in Springfield have really been intended to lessen the effects on emergency departments and law enforcement who in the past have been sort of the de facto outlets for those crises. We’re really trying to ease that burden on them.”
Wait times for some mental health services have increased in recent years, Lemmon said, in part because the mental health field had been in a workforce crisis for years leading up to the pandemic.
“We do a good job of keeping those waitlists to a minimum, but certainly, depending on the specialty that’s needed, or the type of insurance or on a number of factors, wait times can stretch. And certainly, when you have more people seeking care than you have slots for appointments, those waitlists will build. Which in turn can lead to increases in calls to our crisis line.”
To practice psychology, future graduates of the Missouri State program will still have to earn a license after earning their PsyD, as it’s commonly called. (Missouri State currently offers undergraduate and graduate psychology programs.) Even without a license, there are positions available in Springfield that could be filled by local candidates, Lemmon said.
“I would say we could probably hire providers and psychologists every day and probably not have enough,” he said.
MSU Doctor of Psychology program could refill local staffing pipeline
Recently, psychologist David Lutz added a notice to his profile on Psychology Today that he is not accepting new patients. It’s not because he hit a limit on patients, he said, but rather a notice he puts up now and again when he is overwhelmed with assessments, which was the case in early February.
Lutz, faculty emeritus at Missouri State University and a former Missouri Psychological Association president, said that the development of the program won’t mean that the area will be “deluged with psychologists,” but said it will fill a need that has not been met since Forest Institute for Professional Psychology closed its doors in 2015.
Lemmon said that Forest was once a pipeline for qualified candidates who filled positions at Burrell. Once it begins, the MSU Doctor of Psychology program will, by contract, help refill that pipeline.
“We know that there are never enough providers, and the option to support a PsyD program right here in Springfield and southwest Missouri just creates an amazing opportunity not only for us to hire, but for students to graduate and stay in a community where they’ve invested at least five years of their education — many of them more,” Lemmon said.
The program anticipates adding 12 students per year, according to material prepared for the Feb. 18 MSU Board of Governors meeting, when the program is expected to be approved. By the fifth year, the total enrollment will ramp up to 60 students. Per the collaboration agreement between MSU and Burrell, second-year students will complete their clinical practicum at Burrell Clinical locations. All program students will be required to complete at least two clinical practicum experiences at Burrell locations.
“This is a win-win situation for everyone,” MSU President Clif Smart said in a news release. “Our community will have more mental health resources, our students will benefit from the expertise of Burrell clinicians, and our faculty members will be able to keep their skills sharp by seeing patients at Burrell.”
Asked about the development of the MSU program, Appleby said it will likely address a staffing shortage while hoping that it will address more.
“I’m happy for the strides,” Appleby said. “It’s just that the access to care is not good. We can have 500 new psychologists in the area, but people have to have access to them.”
Mental health hotlines
The City of Springfield website provides a list of local and nationwide mental health resources, including this comprehensive collection of crisis hotlines:
Emergency – 911
Burrell Behavioral Health 24-hour Crisis Line – 417-761-5555 | 800-494-7355
- Christian, Dallas, Greene, Polk, Stone, Taney and Webster counties
Borderline Personality Disorder Hotline – 888-482-7227
Harmony House & Victim Center Hotline – 417-864-SAFE (417-864-7233)
LGBTQ+ Hotline – 888-843-4564
Lutheran Family and Children’s Services of Missouri (LFCS) Pregnancy Hotline – 417-268-8997
Runaway Switchboard – 800-RUNAWAY (800-786-2929)
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline – 800-662-HELP (4357)
Suicide/Abuse Crisis Line – 800-999-9999
Suicide Prevention Hotline – 800-273-8255 | Text: 741741
Spanish Suicide Prevention Hotline – 800-754-2432
Teen Text Crisis Line (3 p.m. to midnight, every day) – 855-449-1212 (texting only)
NAMI Southwest Missouri Warm Line – 877-535-4357
by Michele Skalicky, KSMU-Ozarks Public Radio Missouri State University will offer a Doctor of Psychology program in Springfield in collaboration with Burrell Behavioral Health. The two organizations signed a memorandum of understanding Thursday. Burrell president and CEO Dr. C.J. Davis said in a news release that, with a nationwide shortage of workers and an ongoing mental health crisis made worse by the pandemic,…