Stress, Illness and Primary Care in Arizona

There is a new program at the Phoenix branch of Arizona State University.  They are training people with master’s degrees in social work or a mental health field to become Doctors of Behavioral Health.  The goal is for them to work closely with physicians, ideally co-located in the same office and collaborating extensively on behavioral and mental health issues as part of primary care.  Diagnosis and treatment of Stress Illness would clearly be a significant part of their work.

The program has accepted about 50 students in each of its first two classes which is about double what the business plan anticipated.  The number of high quality applicants has been gratifying to Dr. Ron O’Donnell the director and Dr. Nick Cummings, the founder.

Many students attend classes via the internet but they all come to Phoenix a few times each year for a week of seminars.  In four hours last week I presented my approach to Stress Illness in considerable detail and the students responded with enthusiasm.  At the conclusion, I asked a new professor in the program to use her theatrical background to improvise a simulated patient (based on a real person whose situation I had written down for her).  The students proceeded to interview the “patient”, each asking one question.  They rapidly elicited the key issues despite the professor doing an excellent job providing only small pieces of the puzzle to each questioner.

I have no doubt this group can use the framework I provided to build their skills over time as they conduct interviews with real patients who have unexplained symptoms.  Many students approached me afterward to say they found the lecture inspiring and one said he intended to focus on Stress Illness for his career.

The first graduates of the 18-month program will receive their degrees in December.  The physicians they work with are going to love them.