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“Summer Institute” Prepares Students for Career as Military Psychologists

Dr. Libby Parins, a Center for Deployment Psychology team member, teaches the 2019 “Summer Institute” cohort during one of 2018’s sessions. (Photo by Center for Deployment Psychology, USU)
Courtesy of USU’s Center for Deployment Psychology

The Uniformed Services University’s Center for Deployment Psychology (CDP) held the sixth iteration of its “Summer Institute: Preparing for a Psychology Career in the Military'' from 15-19 June. More than 50 students applied, and 41 were accepted for the five-day program aimed at 2nd-, 3rd-, and 4th-year clinical and counseling psychology doctoral students who anticipate, or are seriously considering, applying for a military psychology internship.

The Summer Institute is a unique program that exposes students interested in becoming military interns and psychologists to critical knowledge that helps them prepare for a career in the Armed Services, where they will assume a variety of roles to enhance the military readiness of Service members. This was the first time since its inception in 2015 that the weeklong program was held virtually, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2020 class students participated in daylong presentations and discussions using a remote conferencing platform.

On the first day of Summer Institute this year, students received an overview of military culture and military family life. Uniformed Services University Medical and Clinical Psychology (MPS) student, Air Force Maj. Elizabeth Belleau, led the military culture discussion highlighting key points from the online training prerequisite, “Military Culture: Enhancing Clinical Competence,” which all students completed before commencing the program. This particular session explored the students’ values and assumptions related to working with the military population and how the warrior ethos and military culture may be at odds with traditionally-delivered behavioral health care. Later that day, Dr. Lisa French, CDP’s chief of staff and a former Air Force psychologist, gave students first hand insight into the life of a military psychologist and a military spouse.

Dr. Libby Parins, a Center for Deployment Psychology team member, teaches the 2019 “Summer Institute” cohort during one of last year’s sessions. (Photo by Center for Deployment Psychology, USU)
Members of the 2020 Center for Deployment Psychology "Summer Institute" class used virtual meeting platforms for
this year's military-unique training sessions. (Photo by Center for Deployment Psychology, USU)

While the entire Summer Institute curriculum is important in preparing students for a military psychology career, the Training Director Panel, in particular, on the second day was a highlight. The students were given the opportunity to hear from Army Maj. Thomas Patterson from Madigan Army Medical Center on Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma, Washington; retired Navy Capt. (Dr.) Richard Bergthold from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland; and Air Force Lt. Col. Stephen Stouder from Malcolm Grow Medical Clinics and Surgery Center on Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. Representing the Army, Navy and Air Force, respectively, the psychology training directors provided information about military psychology internships for each of their service branches. Participants shared valuable advice and answered students’ questions about the qualifications they are looking for in applicants and the types of training their internships offer. After the panel, the students broke into smaller online groups and spent one-on-one time with the training director who aligned most with their respective branch of interest.

Later in the week, Maj. Ryan Landoll, assistant professor of Family Medicine and assistant dean for pre-clinical studies at USU, and an Air Force psychologist, shared his career experiences during the military psychologist discussion, which was well received by the students. On the final day of the Summer Institute, CDP’s April Thompson and MPS student, Air Force Capt. Mathew Thompson led a full-day training session on addressing suicidal behavior in the U.S. military. During the discussion, students received a thorough introduction to suicide risk assessment and learned a number of crisis intervention strategies for working with suicidal patients with a particular focus on means safety.

A group of students stand next to the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting pool.
Students in the Center for Deployment Psychology's "Summer Institute" for potential military psychologists and interns
take in the local sites during 2018's training session. The 2020 session was virtual due to COVID-19. (Photo by
Center for Deployment Psychology, USU)

Since its beginning in 2015, the Summer Institute has grown from 23 students in the first cohort to 41 students in the 2020 cohort. The content of the course has also evolved over time based, in part, on a detailed program evaluation process that has allowed CDP to track participant satisfaction and success during and after the course. The Summer Institute students complete pre- and post-training assessments for each day of the course, as well as a final post-program survey at the end of the week. Consistently across cohorts, the vast majority of students have rated the program very highly and have expressed high levels of satisfaction and readiness to begin a military career in psychology.

Upon completion of the course, students are offered an opportunity to take one of CDP’s online two-day evidence-based psychotherapy workshops. CDP hopes this will further encourage participants to join the growing number of Summer Institute alumni who go on to become military interns and psychologists. Annual follow-up surveys have demonstrated that a substantial number of participants do go on to DoD or VA clinical internships, fellowships, and careers. Ninety-two percent of survey respondents reported matching to military-relevant psychology internship sites, suggesting that the program is achieving its goal to serve as a robust recruiting tool for military psychologists.