Guest opinion: Master’s program a boon to 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 getting put on hold. The truth of that is not too far off. Even before the pandemic, Utah’s shortage of mental health therapists was severe. A recent national study ranked each state based on their rates of mental illness and their access to care. Utah came in dead last, meaning much of our population needs help and cannot get it. but UVU’s Marriage and Family Therapy program is trying to do something about that.

UVU has always been very community focused, and when they saw the need, they created the MFT program, which trains master’s students to be therapists. The MFT program is one of three clinical master’s programs at UVU, the other two are social work and clinical mental health counseling. During the past two years, MFT students provided over 22,000 hours of therapy to the local community.

Program Director Elizabeth Fawcett, Ph.D., said, “Our first student cohort 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 amazing group of students who are preparing to graduate in May 2022.”

Each year, between 20-24 MFT graduates are entering the field and alleviating some of the burden felt by therapists across the state, who too often have to put prospective clients on months-long wait lists. Unfortunately, even when clients can find a therapist taking new clients, they often don’t take insurance. This can leave the most economically vulnerable populations with few options.

The UVU Marriage and Family Therapy program is trying to address that issue as well with their Community Mental Health Clinic, which is open to individuals, couples and families. It is easily accessible from public transportation, staffed by graduate level clinicians-in-training and supervised by seasoned therapists, at little or no cost to the client.

Clinic Director Derek Larsen states, “Our mission is to train effective therapists and to help increase access to mental health services for the uninsured, underinsured, and underprivileged. We are appreciative of the recently remodeled space UVU has given us to begin to grow and for in-the-works relocation plans promising even further growth for the clinic as well as our mental health programs.”

When the waitlist at BYU’s clinic is eight weeks and Wasatch Behavioral Health has a long gap between intake and seeing a therapist, the need to increase Utah County’s affordable venues is dire. And while Utah can be overwhelmingly homogeneous — white and LDS — UVU’s MFT program is proud to have several therapists who are native Spanish speakers. This year’s cohort even boasts a student proficient in sign language, who plans to work with Utah’s underserved deaf population.

While all education is valuable, it’s not often that one program can address two of our most pressing problems as a society — a shortage of mental health therapists and the need for affordable and accessible mental health counsel. Well done Wolverines. Well done.

Heather Sundahl is a writer and editor with the Utah Women and Leadership Project. Sundahl is a student in the Marriage and Family Therapy Master’s program.

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