Slama Talks with Students about Opportunities in Rural Practice

The University of Saint Thomas Psychology Graduate Student Organization of the College of Education, Leadership and Counseling hosted Dr. Kay Slama, Ph.D., MSS, L.P., for a presentation regarding the principles of rural culture and rural counseling competencies on Thursday, October 17. Graduate students from around the Twin Cities were able to attend the free session designed to increase awareness among urban and suburban psychology students about the needs and opportunities in the greater Minnesota region. Opportunities to obtain graduate school loan forgiveness through the National Health Service Corps program was also discussed.

Dr. Slama described rural Minnesota as existing on a continuum, from a person or family who lives and works on a farm to individuals who live and work in small towns. For individuals and families who live on farms, the impact of their vocation cannot be overstated. Dr. Slama described farming as intensive work that occurs seven days a week and is often accompanied by a sense of duty to the family’s prior generations.

“No one wants to be the weak link in the chain that loses the family farm,” she stated. “Ownership of a farm is considered the triumph of many generations. The loss of the farm is the ultimate failure, the letdown of generations of forbearers and the denial of opportunity to their children and their children’s children.” She described how agricultural work becomes embedded in all aspects of a family’s life.

“A farm marriage has three entities – the couple and the farm. This means that the farm’s priorities can come between a husband and wife,” said Dr. Slama. When stress builds, farmers are at increased risk for injuries. Data has shown that farmers working in difficult economic periods are two to three times more likely to experience a serious injury. They are also at increased risk for injury and suicide during the fall and spring, when they operate with little sleep in order to keep up with the demands of their responsibilities.

Yet many individuals in rural settings are reluctant to seek out mental health care. “Values in rural areas include independence and self-reliance. This is a matter of survival if your closest neighbor is three or four miles away,” stated Dr. Slama. A tendency to avoid change and ignore emotional cues are also common in rural Minnesota. Dr. Slama pointed out that these principles provide individuals methods to help rural people maintain a demanding lifestyle. Because of these factors, Dr. Slama identified many techniques necessary to provide psychological care in rural settings.

“I don’t discuss ‘mental health;’ I talk about ‘stress’ and I don’t say ‘therapy;’ I call it a ‘consultation,’” she said. Dr. Slama also stated that she tries to meet people in settings that are not identified with mental health, because rural people tend to be reluctant to go to such settings. “I’ve had meetings in hospitals, clinics, churches, and homes,” she reported.

She also noted that non-emotional, rural clients brought up to suppress emotion tend to find more success through behavioral counseling techniques. She stated that many aspects of rural therapy involve family dynamics, and counselors need to have an appreciation for family systems, not just familiarity working with individual clients. She also suggested presenting therapeutic interventions such as self-management skills to make them more in line with cultural norms, and the importance of helping clients learn how to recognize and deal with their emotional states. “Many people in rural areas have been acculturated not to do this,” said Dr. Slama.

Dr. Slama discussed opportunities for graduate students to obtain loan repayment through the National Health Service Corps, which uses federal funds to encourage service in mostly rural locations.  Initial loan repayment awards range from $20,000 to $60,000 depending on the number of years (two or four) a graduate provides service and the level of need of the community. Graduate students can apply for a position through the National Health Service Corps at Dr. Slama stated that students could even help their eligible worksite apply for listing. “All you need to do is fill out some paperwork, find a community in need and have them fill out a little bit of paperwork too. It is not hard to do at all,” said Dr. Slama.

“You are a valued member of the community as a rural mental health provider,” said Dr. Slama. Opportunities to collaborate with community members and institutions are immense. She described the opportunity to coordinate with schools, medical care providers, nursing homes, residential facilities, law enforcement agencies, libraries, business groups, higher education, and other organizations as a regular part of her work.

At the conclusion of her presentation, Dr. Slama, who is on the Governing Council of the Minnesota Psychological Association, could not resist promoting the MPA to a room full of graduate students. “The MPA is the best investment you can make in your career in terms of education, networking and advocacy. If you are not a member, look into becoming one.”

David Nathan is a Doctoral Candidate at the University of Saint Thomas and a Member of the MPA Student Division.

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