I founded The REACH Institute in 2006 with the goal of transforming mental health services for children and adults by empowering providers to care for their patients. As a nation, we have a desperate shortage of trained providers who can deliver mental health services in the U.S. Through the REACH Institute, we train primary-care providers, therapists and other professionals to diagnose and treat mental health issues effectively. Since we began, REACH has trained more than 6,000 pediatricians and other primary-care physicians in all 50 states to be “first responders” to children with mental health needs.
The problem I'm trying to solve
Approximately 1 in 5 children ages 3 to 17 in the U.S. has a mental health condition, but less than 30 percent of them get the help they need for it. Families usually turn to their child’s pediatrician or other primary care provider for help with a child’s mental health because they trust their doctor. But most primary-care physicians don’t get much training in mental health services.
We have a drastic shortage of expertise. Typically, continuing medical education (CME) programs, which are required by all states for doctors to renew their licenses, are terribly ineffective. These CME training programs are pretty much a hit-and-run — they're just lectures. They don’t teach new skills or change behavior. Through REACH, we give doctors the training to help them assess, diagnose and treat mental health problems so they can deliver high-level mental health services.
The second problem we’re trying to solve is that if you look at everyone who practices medicine, on average, practitioners are years behind the latest science — it takes an average of 17 years for research-based evidence to become incorporated into clinical practice. Discovering this was distressing to me because by then, I had spent nearly 10 years at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) doing large-scale clinical trials that were aimed at improving clinical practices for children’s mental health problems.
The moment that sparked my passion
When I was a child, there were eight kids in my family and I had a lot of health problems. I would often read about physician Albert Schweitzer and other scientists, and I came out of that thinking that I wanted to be a doctor. Also, during my childhood, I lost two siblings. That had a big role in shaping me and made me interested in psychology and mental health, so I became a child and adolescent psychiatrist. But it was really understanding the 17-year gap that inspired me to start REACH, with the goal of closing the gap between the latest science and what’s offered in clinical practice to just one to two years.
What I wish other people knew
I wish people knew they are often getting outdated medical care. I wish every parent knew about this gap and could say, “I want the latest in evidence-based care. How do I get it?” I’ve become a real believer in the power of advocacy. I often recommend asking whether your doctor has been trained by REACH; if not, they’re probably practicing 17-year-old medicine.