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Support for future licensed mental health therapists

A unique ‘clinic within a clinic’ gives Kaiser Permanente employees the training hours they need.

Leanne Jones says that the best part of her week is getting to work with patients at a new behavioral health “clinic within a clinic” at the Kaiser Permanente Vallejo Medical Center.

Jones is the regional director for mental health and wellness on the organization’s health plan side, but she’s also one of hundreds of employees currently pursuing graduate level mental health degrees in the Kaiser Permanente Mental Health Scholars Academy, or MHSA. It’s an initiative that supports the education of new mental health professionals committed to earning behavioral health degrees and then working for Kaiser Permanente in California as therapists.

An innovative approach

Kathryn Wetzler, PsyD, is responsible for all mental health training across Kaiser Permanente Northern California, including the new clinic within a clinic. It’s a model in which the site is located in an existing medical center but with an emphasis on training the scholars as they launch their careers.

While the traditional training programs have long been established, Dr. Wetzler said she needed an innovative approach to providing supervised professional experience to the scholars due to the unique nature of their program.

As existing Kaiser Permanente employees who continue to work full or part time in addition to pursuing their degree, the scholars such as Jones needed a more flexible training site to receive their clinical hours. For this reason, the clinic within a clinic enables scholars to work evenings and Saturdays.  

A second factor for this new model was that due to the COVID-19 pandemic and related funding challenges, many existing training sites in the community shuttered — leaving a dearth of quality locations for the scholars to choose from.

“We have our own training team that is fully dedicated to training the scholars,” Dr. Wetzler said. “The clinic within a clinic helps the scholars in their clinical training, setting them up for success in the Kaiser Permanente system of care.”

Helping patients, earning hours

Scholars typically treat lower acuity patients, which Dr. Wetzler said are “very carefully screened to match the level of training and competency of the scholars.”

Aaron Trinh, PsyD, a clinical psychologist with extensive operational expertise and experience with supervision and training, has been appointed clinical director of Vallejo’s clinic within a clinic, which operates with 5 licensed staff members.

Jones is working toward her degree in marriage and family therapy at Alliant International University. She currently sees patients virtually on Mondays and Fridays while continuing to work full time. She entered with the first MHSA cohort in August 2020 and will graduate in December after she completes 300 hours of supervised patient care.

Jones said that the support has made it easier to rapidly learn the foundations of what therapy is and begin providing patient care.

With 77 MHSA scholars embarking on their clincals by the end of this year, more will soon be able to earn their hours within Kaiser Permanente: The Santa Clara Medical Center is opening its own version of this program later this month.

“We will over time expand hubs where they make most geographic sense to address the needs of the scholars, while rapidly increasing a diverse pipeline of mental health professionals within Kaiser Permanente,” Dr. Wetzler said.

As for Jones, she said that “getting to the point where I am seeing patients has been one of the highlights of my career.”

Learn more about the Mental Health Scholars Academy.


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