Nov. 22, 2017

New mental health resource a wellspring of opportunities for treatment, teaching and research

Psychology clinic serves as a single venue for testing and implementing

Endless opportunities. That’s what Andrew Kim, a PhD candidate in clinical psychology, sees before him as the University of Calgary Psychology Clinic opens its doors. Career opportunities. Research opportunities. Teaching opportunities. The invaluable opportunity afforded in providing a new mental health resource to Calgarians.

Kim’s research is focused on addictive behaviours and impulse control disorders. His supervisor, Dr. David Hodgins, is a renowned expert in gambling and addictive behaviours and Kim is excited by the innovative work they’ll be doing together within the new clinic.

“When I was doing my undergraduate degree, I was introduced to addictions treatment and that included gambling,” says Kim. “It sparked my intellectual curiosity that a behaviour such as gambling can have the same affects that we see in people who are dependent on alcohol, cannabis or cocaine. Yet, currently, treatments for substance abuse and behavioural addiction are separated. It’s often thought that behavioural addictions are completely new disorders, but really, there’s a lot of underlying similarities between the two. Maybe it’s a more effective approach to create one treatment which targets that underlying mechanism for addiction?”

The new clinic will allow Kim and Hodgins to develop this new form of “trans-diagnostic treatment” more effectively than in a hospital environment.

“The new clinic gives us the chance to test and implement innovative treatments,” explains Kim. “In the hospital setting, it might be very difficult for a clinician to say, ‘I’m developing this new treatment that might work really well. Can we try this within the system?’ The managers will likely say, ‘No. Stick to the tested treatments we know.’ But, if you stick to that, there’s no innovation. We can’t move forward with our research.”  

Andrew Kim, PhD candidate in clinical psychology, will benefit tremendously from the new psychology clinic as he conducts his research on addictive behaviours and impulse control disorders.

Andrew Kim, PhD candidate in clinical psychology.

Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Working within the clinic, Kim plans to put the new treatment to the test. “We can start seeing clients here and find out how well this treatment model works,” he says. “This gives us the opportunity to make refinements, so that, eventually, this could become an established treatment for addictive disorders.”

But the benefits of the new clinic are not limited to research. As a PhD candidate aiming for a career in the incredibly competitive field of clinical psychology, Kim is keenly aware of the new opportunities the clinic creates for new students.

“Most clinical psychology programs get between 150 to 200 applicants a year and they take five or six,” he notes. “With the new clinic, we have the capacity to take more.” In addition, PhD students in clinical psychology are required to do practicum placements and internships in clinics, giving them practical experience in the field. With the opening of the University of Calgary Psychology Clinic, students will have greater choice as to which specialties they can focus on.

Kim also looks forward to taking full advantage of the training facilities in the state-of-the-art clinic, such as recording systems that allow supervisors to monitor sessions and provide feedback in real time, without interruption, while also recording the sessions for further study.

“This is a phenomenal teaching tool,” says Kim. “The ability to sit down and replay the sessions in a comprehensive manner, to slow the process down and consider, ‘What went well here and what could have gone better?’ It’s a great way to learn. All of this gives students a competitive edge when it comes to residency applications and moving forward with their careers.”

Most importantly, Kim adds, the University of Calgary Psychology Clinic will be beneficial for the city. “The importance of providing another mental health resource for Calgarians cannot be undervalued,” he says. “It’s a way in which the university can give back to the community.”