Prior to embarking on my journey in a clinical setting, much of my experience had been rooted in the basic sciences. In the classroom, I’ve been exposed to endless psychology-based theory and biopsychological concepts; in the laboratory, I have been fortunate enough to explore how serotonin receptors can modulate physiological functions in a ligand-specific manner. While approaching psychology with a strictly systematic mindset has been very valuable to me, I found myself wanting to address a gap in my experience: patient-guided practice.
This semester, I worked with Gil internship coordinators to determine a local workplace that would allow me to explore the more clinical aspects of psychology and neuroscience. Accordingly, I’ve had the pleasure of working with a Chapel Hill-based psychiatry clinic: Cognitive Psychiatry of Chapel Hill. The clinic is directed by Dr. Jennie Byrne, who has mentored me throughout the semester. Every clinic has their strengths, but CPCH shines in a couple of key areas—accessibility and flexibility—and in the effort of espousing these tenets, the clinic offers 24/7 accessibility, efficient scheduling, televideo therapy, and non-pharmacological treatment options to the local community.
Psychiatric treatments and talk therapy are excellent options for combating mental health related difficulties, but the benefits from these options are especially maximized when patients advocate for themselves and give careful attention to their own mental health through daily habits. CPCH hopes to encourage “mental wellness,” a term used to describe a more holistic way of honoring one’s own mental and emotional health. Mental wellness can be achieved through countless avenues, including mindful nutrition, a regularized sleep schedule, breathing techniques, yoga, and more.
Early in the year, Dr. Byrne shared with me her vision to develop an online wellness program that patients could access remotely. The governing idea behind this program is that patients can refer to a resource to address mental health related concerns and educate themselves about various modalities of self-care. Together, Dr. Byrne and I drew up a plan to cover major topics (such as sleep hygiene, goal setting, and relaxation techniques) in addition to more specific topics (healthy substance use, supplements). Throughout the semester, I have interviewed psychiatrists within the practice, conducted literature searches, organized content, and used this content to create engaging modules. These modules, organized in chapters, provide evidence-based information, downloadable forms, videos, and quizzes in a way that engages patients and encourages them to be proactive. We have successfully launched our first module and are hoping to launch the second soon.
Working with Dr. Jennie Byrne and the other psychiatrists at CPCH has been a very enjoyable and enlightening experience. I have grown to appreciate the diversity of treatment options, the creativity in meeting patient needs, and the care that mental health providers take in cultivating self-agency in their patients. The Gil internship has been an invaluable opportunity to explore psychology practice outside of the classroom. As a result, I feel better prepared to chart my future towards a direction that incorporates not only hard science, but patient-based care as well.