BOONE — Appalachian State University has received approval from the University of North Carolina Board of Governors to establish a Doctor of Psychology program, with a primary goal of training students in clinical psychology to serve rural populations. Appalachian plans to begin admitting students in fall 2019.

The program will help address the shortage of providers in North Carolina, where about one-quarter of the state’s 100 counties have no practicing psychologist, according to a 2016 report by the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at UNC-Chapel Hill.

“The foresight of the board of governors in sanctioning this doctoral program at Appalachian helps us address the ever-increasing demand for psychologists in North Carolina, especially in underserved, rural areas,” Chancellor Sheri Everts said. “This program also expands our capacity for outreach, research and collaboration with communities. In addition to the health and wellness benefits, the program will strengthen communities through the additional professional workforce.”

The Psy.D. program will be housed in Appalachian’s Department of Psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences. Its curriculum will be designed to meet requirements for American Psychological Association accreditation. The program’s goal is to develop psychologists who are well-rounded practitioners trained in and committed to evidence-based professional practice. The program has already been approved by the university’s accrediting body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

This will be Appalachian’s second doctoral-level degree. The Doctor of Education program has been offered through Appalachian’s Reich College of Education since 1992.

Students in the Psy.D. program will gain a broad knowledge in psychology, assessment, intervention, research and other topics, as well as significant applied supervised clinical training in the community. Sites already used as part of Appalachian’s master’s degree program in clinical psychology include area schools through the Assessment, Support and Counseling Centers, founded by Appalachian faculty to reach young people in rural areas; medical practices in the community; and the university’s Psychology Clinic and Counseling and Psychological Services Center.

Students will also gain an understanding of the impact of culture and diversity on clinical practice, said program Director Lisa Curtin. This includes the ecological factors that affect individual and community development.

For example, Curtin said a provider’s recommendation to treat depression through exercise, as supported by research, might not be feasible for a client without access to a gym or safe sidewalks for walking. Or, a client who values self-reliance may have difficulty asking friends and family for support, as a provider might typically recommend, she said. Students in Appalachian’s program would learn how to identify these issues or concerns and find alternatives that work for the client while also adhering to professional standards and evidence-based practice.

The doctoral program will require both a doctoral dissertation, which documents mastery of scientific skills, and a pre-doctoral internship in a clinical setting.

Upon completion of the program, graduates will be eligible to apply for licensure as psychologists and health service providers, with qualification to establish careers in the private and public sectors. These include clinics, hospitals, community agencies, university counseling centers, public schools and private practice. They may also teach in colleges and universities, and provide supervision to master’s level practitioners.

According to materials presented to the UNC Board of Governers, the program is being developed in ongoing consultation and collaboration with Western Carolina University, which is also developing a psychology doctoral program.

Both Appalachian and Western share a mission in “serving the broad, rural western region of North Carolina and their respective doctoral degree proposals and current master’s level programs share common elements as well as clear distinctions,” according to ASU’s proposal.

The Appalachian State program focuses on rural health psychology and offers applied training elements that will not be duplicated at WCU, it said.

In turn, the WCU emphasis on school-aged individuals will include many child-oriented and school-oriented components that will not be duplicated in the Appalachian State training programs, according to the materials.

Although the programs have different focuses, they will share some “coursework, field placements, research supervision and other scholarly activities,” the materials said.

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