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New AHP Program Seeks to Inspire: Community Mental Health Training

AHP was born of the vision of its founders, specifically of our executive director, James Dilley, who sought to give HIV-affected San Franciscans access to community mental health and public psychiatry, the sorts of services that “meet people where they’re at” and offer them the support they need to heal and transform their lives.

It’s just this group of people who benefit the most from a robust, passionate, and diverse population of community mental health providers. To cultivate this passion and invest in the future of community-based agencies like AHP, we have begun to pilot this new Community Mental Health Workforce Development program. Seed funding from the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development is enabling us to recruit and train a diverse group of community members—people of color, people who identify as LGBTQ, consumers of mental health services, and people with disabilities—who want to learn more about a career in community mental health. Participants in will engage in fourteen weeks of trainings in areas such as trauma-informed care, harm reduction as treatment, disability and access, stigma, power and privilege, wellness and recovery, role transition and mental health career tracks. The trainees will receive regular supervision from the program coordinator—long-time AHP clinician, Claudia Figallo, MPH —and guidance on the various opportunities in the field. Participants will also receive support and mentoring from our clinical trainees.

The Community Mental Health Workplace Development program really finds its roots in AHP’s two decade-old Clinical Traineeship Program. Each cycle, a dozen or so promising graduate and doctoral clinical interns spend a year at the clinic, acquiring skills and guidance toward developing their practice. While they are with us, the trainees gain experience working directly with clients, often for the first time, while getting hours to fulfill their license requirements.

Key to AHP’s mission and central to mental health and wellness is reducing the stigma associated with mental health care, with being LGBTQ, and with having HIV. Nurturing a commitment to public health as well as to diverse communities goes a long way toward ensuring the future of providers ready to join organizations like AHP across the Bay Area, the state, and the nation.

AHP Director, Lori Thoemmes, LMFT, hopes the pilot program leads to a full-fledged workforce development project at AHP, one that focuses specifically on people who are disproportionately missing from the mental health field. “It is so important to ensure all LGBTQ community members receive culturally relevant care, now and into the future,” Thoemmes said. “Engaging people when they are in the throes of career decision making is crucial to fostering the passion for and investment in a career in publicly focused mental health care.”

Recruiting potential mental health professionals from the communities they will serve and nurturing them with guidance, mentorship, and knowledge, will increase the likelihood that the field will be responsive to the broad diversity of clients who need community mental health services. It will reduce stigma, ensure high-quality care, and increase wellness for LGBTQ and HIV-affected consumers of mental health services. That is, after all, AHP’s mission.