CLARKSVILLE – Next fall, Austin Peay State University plans to address a mental health crisis shaking military communities across the nation when it unveils the institution’s second doctoral degree – a doctor of psychology in counseling psychology with a concentration in serving military personnel, veterans and their families.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, between 2005 and 2011, an estimated 22 veterans died by suicide each day, and there were 146 veteran suicide deaths in Tennessee in 2015. That translates to a veteran suicide rate of 30.5, which is significantly higher than the overall Tennessee rate of 20.3.
As part of Austin Peay’s proposed program, the department of psychological science and counseling will open a public clinic to provide vital services to the area’s military community. The university is working to convert the former Wesley Foundation Building on College Street into the clinic, which also will serve as the primary training site for the new degree program and APSU’s existing master of science in counseling program.
The proposed degree still needs the approval of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges – the region’s higher education accrediting body – but earlier this summer, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission gave Austin Peay its consent to move forward with the new program.
“It’s very exciting because this will be the first doctor of psychology program in the state,” said Dr. Nicole Knickmeyer, department chair. “And it will have a concentration in serving military personnel, veterans and their families, because we have long been aware of the level of need in this area.”
The clinic will also serve low-income, under-insured and uninsured residents of Clarksville in need of mental health counseling.
“I think it’s a service that’s really needed in the community,” said Dr. Tucker Brown, dean of the APSU College of Behavioral and Health Sciences. “Mental health issues in general continue to increase, or at least the visibility of them and our ability to recognize and treat them better as a society is increasing. We’re very encouraged by the potential to serve the community and address this important need.”
According to a recent report on the state of mental health in America, Tennessee ranked 45th among all states in access to mental health care. The doctor of psychology is a practitioner-oriented degree, with the goal of preparing practicing psychologists for this area. The program’s military focus also means it will train mental health professionals to address the specific needs of this population.
This marks the second time Austin Peay has developed an advanced degree to serve the region. In fall 2018, the university began to offer its first doctoral degree – a doctor of education with a focus on educational leadership. That program, which helps area teachers and administrators grow within their profession, prompted SACSCOC to reclassify the university from a Level IV institution to a Level V institution, opening the door for additional doctoral degrees.
But the proposed doctor of psychology predates that reclassification. Knickmeyer spent the last 10 years developing the program because of the growing demand in the area. In the fall, she hopes to hire a director of training and two core faculty members for the program. If the degree receives SACSCOC approval in December, the university will enroll an inaugural cohort of six students – many of them from APSU’s master of science in counseling program – for the fall 2020 semester.
“We want to keep it small while we pursue accreditation through the American Psychological Association,” Knickmeyer said.
For information on the APSU Department of Psychological Science and Counseling, visit apsu.edu/psychology/index.php.