A Q&A WITH DR. ROBYN MEHLENBECK
AbleVets is a proud supporter of the GMU Center for Psychological Services and a sponsor of its annual fundraiser. This year’s event will take place on Saturday, April 6, 2019, providing attendees a fun-filled evening of music, food and amazing silent auction offerings. The funds raised will help assure that all members of the community – children, adolescents, adults and Veterans – can access the Center’s services, regardless of income.
Beyond taking corporate social responsibility and community involvement seriously, AbleVets recognizes that 1 in 5 Americans (both adults and youths) experience mental health illness each year, and many don’t get the help they need. Suicide rates among Veterans is 2.1 times higher compared with non-Veteran adults. Each day an estimated 18-22 Veterans die by suicide arising from depression, PTSD and other antecedents.
Dr. Robyn Mehlenbeck, the Center’s director, recently sat down with AbleVets to discuss efforts to expand services and promote accessibility.
Q: Tell us about the Center’s mission.
A: We provide evidence-based clinical training in assessment, consultation and intervention and deliver accessible, culturally-sensitive services to the community. The Center participates in clinical research aimed at improving existing interventions and advancing the scientific community. We also train the next generation of providers as we meet ever-growing community needs.
Q: What does your typical day look like?
A: Every day is different and brings new challenges. One day I might be supervising doctoral students while the next I’ll be mentoring undergraduates regarding careers. Some days I’m doing research; other days I’m working with government officials on initiatives to increase accessibility of care. Still other times I’m modeling family therapy skills or bringing students to community clinics. No two days are ever the same, but I am extremely passionate about the work we do.
Q: What do you see as your top priorities?
A: My first priority is to expand the Center’s reach and offer services that work. It’s important, too, to be accessible in terms of cost. So many who need mental health services simply can’t afford them. That’s why our fundraising and sponsorships activities are so important. Last, but not least, is training our next-generation of providers. I love teaching and enjoy equipping students with the knowledge and skills they need to be proficient in their field. One lesson I try to instill in every student is the importance of giving back to the community.
Q: What type of services do you provide? How can community members access these services?
A: The Center provides a range of competitive and low-fee assessment/testing services as well as individual and group therapy for adults, children, couples and families. All of our assessment and intervention approaches are validated by recent research and matched to individual client needs. If we can’t provide the service a client needs, we’ll help with referrals.
Q: What is the biggest challenge you face in delivering and expanding services?
A: The training aspect of our mission inherently limits the number of clients we can serve. We hope to address this issue over the coming year, potentially by hiring more clinicians and supervisors. As we all know, waitlists are not helpful for anyone.
Q: What has been the response to the Center’s work among community members?
A: Schools appreciate our testing reports, as do providers of Veteran services. We are proud of a grant one of my colleagues secured from Fairfax County that enables us to bring evidence-based training to community providers, extending our reach within the community and arming providers with treatments that work, as well as our partnerships with other community organizations.
Q: What are your biggest hopes when it comes to addressing mental health on a national scale?
A: My biggest hope centers on accessibility. We have treatments that work, but we can’t get them to the people that need them, whether it’s a cost, awareness, transportation, language, or other obstacle. Someday, people will not have difficulty accessing services that work. I hope, too, that as a community, we can help decrease the stigma associated with mental health so individuals who could benefit from interventions are willing to get them. Continued collaboration across public and private sectors on accessibility issues is key.
Q: What messages would you like people to know about your Center?
A:We believe high-quality mental health services shouldn’t be a luxury. We strive to make mental health services available and accessible to everyone who needs them, regardless of income. We ensure these services are high-quality by relying on data and experience to identify and deliver treatments that enable our clients to regain control of their lives and enjoy living. This wouldn’t be possible without support from the community, our corporate sponsors and our fundraising events.
Dr. Robyn Mehlenbeck is a board certified child and adolescent psychologist who specializes in working with adolescents and children with medical conditions, including eating disorders and diabetes. Her research also focuses on helping overweight children lose weight. Currently, she is a Clinical Professor at GMU and the Director of the GMU Center for Psychological Services, a clinic committed to training graduate students and providing services for the community.