Representing Psychologists

By Tanya J. Schwartz, Ph D., ABPPCN
Wednesday - March 30, 2005
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The brain is a fascinating organ. My grandfather was a neurologist, and by age 10 I knew that I, too, wanted to explore the brain. I can remember declaring to my mother that it would be my life’s work.

Later, as I began to formally study the brain, I became intrigued not only with its structure but also with its function, and the study of mind. Imagine, this one organ is responsible for every human achievement, from the slightest twitch of the little finger, to our flights into space, to our capacity to love one another. I was hooked. I studied biopsychology as an undergraduate, then clinical neuropsychology in graduate school and in my advanced clinical training.

Today, as a clinical neuropsychologist, issues of brain and mind are still thrilling to me. Half of my practice is with inpatients, mainly stroke victims, at the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific. My out-patient practice is varied, including work with the epilepsy center at Queens, and managing referrals from neurologists, primary care physicians and psychiatrists.

(from left) Ruby Casarino, RN, Rae Corlis, RN., Tanya
Schwartz, Ph.D., Nita Raquepo LRN and Toni Razon,
ward clerk, work as a team at the Rehabilitation Hospital
of the Pacific

This year, I’m honored to have been elected president of the Hawaii Psychological Association (HPA), the single professional organization for psychologists in state of Hawaii. Our umbrella organization is the American Psychological Association based in Washington, D.C. We function independently to represent both the interest of Hawaii’s psychologists (we’re 400 members strong) and the psychological needs of Hawaii’s people.

What are psychologists? They are experts in the study of behavior and in the assessment and treatment of behavioral/ mental health disorders. Psychologists hold doctoral degrees, with an average of four to five years of graduate training, clinical internship, and post-doctoral training. Most psychologists provide psychotherapy and conduct assessments. In some states, psychologists with appropriate training prescribe medicine for psychological disorders.

Psychologists work in many settings, including the military, police force, social service agencies, hospitals, industry/businesses, universities, research facilities and in private practice. Neuropsychology is a subspecialty looking at brain-behavior relationships, and how brain disease or damage might affect someone’s thinking or personality. In addition to treating mental illness, many psychologists help organizations and people to thrive by building tools to help them cope with life’s common challenges.

In general, psychologists help people solve problems and enhance well-being in every area of life.

HPA’s full members hold doctorate degrees in psychology, but we also have a very active student division. By tying in with students earlier in their training, we can get them involved in our mentoring program and enhance their transition into the field. Our new task force for early career psychologists provides training in how to set up a practice and the multiple ways in which one can serve the community with a degree in psychology.

We know that mental health problems account for a significant amount of missed work and lost productivity. Our clinical division interacts with managed care, such as HMSA and Medicare, to advocate for the people and work to ensure that coverage for mental health services is maintained. Currently in Hawaii, insurance coverage for mental health therapy is among the best in nation.

In the Legislature, we’ve been fighting for mental health parity, to have treatment of mental health considered equal to physical health. Keeping them separate is a false distinction: Research has consistently shown the inextricable mind-body connection.

Another challenge we face is the stigma that is sometimes still associated with seeking mental health treatment. To overcome this, we promote the field wherever we can. Our members often donate their time to serve as resources for the media. We partner with the Mental Health Association to offer depression screenings at public venues, and much more. We also have a public education campaign; we have provided programs on psychological resiliency and preventing school violence; and we are gearing up to provide programs on the “mind-body connection.”

I’m particularly proud of the services our doctors are providing to some of Hawaii’s neediest communities. Through the Native Hawaiian Psychology Training Program at Tripler Army Medical Center, psychologists are being trained specifically to serve rural communities such as Hana, Haiku, Waianae, Molokai, Kauai, Waimanalo, Hilo and the Hamakua Coast. Thanks to in-depth training in cultural sensitivity and how to work as part of a team at Hawaii’s community health centers, we’re making great strides in managing the issues that afflict so many of our ethnic and rural citizens.

What drives every psychologist is the desire to help people realize the fullness of their potential. It is my hope that we can break down the walls that separate psychology and other branches of healthcare so that people can make full use of our resources, and Hawaii can be a healthier place.

Next week: Bob Hiam, president and CEO of HMSA

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