Stopping the silent struggle
Adam Reid is improving care of mental illness one patient, study and event at a time.
By Dahlia Ghabour
There is a certain stigma that comes with discussion about mental illnesses. Some doubt the legitimacy of these conditions or label them as not “real diseases.” But UF graduate student Adam Reid knows otherwise and spends much of his time combating that very stigma.
“One thing we do to help with the stigma is to educate the public with community events,” Reid said. “(Mental illness is) a medical condition just like a cold. Anyone can get it.”
Reid completed his bachelor’s degree at UF in three years, followed by a master’s degree in clinical and health psychology at the College of Public Health and Health Professions. He is currently working on a doctorate in clinical psychology and a master’s degree in epidemiology.
Reid’s research includes improving treatment outcomes for pediatric obsessive-compulsive disorder and disseminating new treatment options. He works in a specialty OCD clinic headed by Gary Geffken, Ph.D.
“OCD is one of the top 10 most impairing medical conditions, right behind schizophrenia,” Reid said. “I see these patients come in who are really impaired, in distress. The treatment we do here — exposure therapy — in about 15 sessions, or 15 hours, you can drastically reduce OCD symptoms.”
Officially, the treatment is called cognitive behavioral therapy with exposure response prevention. With this technique, therapists challenge obsessive fears and compulsions in everyday settings. Those with contamination fears are taken to places such as dumpsters or public bathrooms to complete challenges, right along with their therapists.
“That’s really the core element of them getting better,” Reid said. “Facing their fear and realizing, ‘Hey, nothing happened.’ And we’re doing that with them.”
Patients who complete the therapy can reduce their OCD to a non-clinical or sub-clinical range, which leaves them able to go to school or work.
In addition to his OCD research, Reid spent two-and-a-half years volunteering at another mental health clinic: the College of Medicine Equal Access Clinic’s Free Therapy Night, which runs on Monday evenings at the Gainesville Community Ministries.
Free Therapy Night provides free psychological care for the underserved. Staffed entirely by volunteer graduate students studying clinical health psychology or counseling psychology, the clinic offers short-term, goal-focused treatment to anyone who needs it and who cannot pay.
“It’s a very low-cost operation because everyone’s volunteering,” Reid said. “We have a licensed clinical social worker who does on–site supervision for us. It’s a very sustainable model because we don’t require a lot to operate.”
Each patient’s treatment consists of five weekly sessions, during which the graduate therapists focus on cognitive behavioral therapy to help patients develop self-care strategies. Reid helped the clinic set up research studies that showed the short-term model was effective.
They also completed a research study on the effectiveness of using Skype to deliver treatment. Reid and his colleagues are working on publishing their findings.
“We were kind of blazing a trail there,” he said. “What we’ve seen at Free Therapy Night is that with a little help, lives can be changed. If we can give them that boost that they need to get back on their feet, that’s a win for everyone.”
As a result of his academic excellence and work with Free Therapy Night, Reid won the 2015 American Psychological Association Most Distinguished Graduate Student Award, an honor given each year to only one person in the country.
Reid has left Free Therapy Night to the supervision of other students but continues to assist with planning and administration to move the clinic forward.
Once he finishes his schooling, Reid hopes to open a specialty OCD clinic in an underserved area.
“There’s a huge demand for this,” he said. “You could point anywhere on the U.S. map and it’s probably going to be needed in that area. I can use that clinic to train other providers who can go elsewhere, and it trickles down. That’s really the goal.”