This is another in a series of profiles of health care professionals who have benefited from the Massachusetts Loan Repayment Program (MLRP). The MLRP works to increase access to comprehensive primary care in underserved areas, by providing up to $50,000 towards outstanding educational loans for health professionals who commit to work at an eligible health care organization for two full-time years.
In her undergraduate studies at the University of New Hampshire, Kaitlyn McDonald became interested in psychology. As part of her studies, she participated in a field placement at a local court – which sparked in Kaitlyn a desire to better understand and to help people involved in the criminal justice system. Beyond the court’s punitive functions, Kaitlyn saw an opportunity to help and rehabilitate offenders. “I wanted to try to understand the person, his or her circumstances, and what he or she did to end up in court,” she says.
While receiving her graduate training at California School of Professional Psychology, Kaitlyn provided treatment services to men 18 to 25 years of age at California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation Services Division of Juvenile Justice. She also gained experience while working at Psychological Service Center in California and during her pre-doctoral training at Ancora Psychiatric Hospital in New Jersey where the majority of clientele were underserved populations lacking financial resources and social support. Following her post-doctoral training at the Massachusetts Treatment Center, she was hired full time and now serves as the Supervising Psychologist and Director of Training.
About 550 out of the 600 men at the Massachusetts Treatment Center who have been civilly committed as sexually dangerous persons – or state prison inmates identified as sex offenders — voluntarily receive mental health services. Kaitlyn explains that the goal at the Massachusetts Treatment Center is two-fold: “We are working with these individuals to try decreasing their risk of re-offending and increasing the likelihood that they will have successful reintegration into the community once they leave here.”
The evidence-based treatment program at Massachusetts Treatment Center involves a risk and needs assessment for participants. The needs assessment informs development of an individualized treatment plan. Treatment plans are geared towards facilitating successful re-entry into society. Treatment is delivered in group settings, psycho-educational classes, and housing in therapeutic communities, where community activities and peer support groups are fostered. Kaitlyn notes, “These men leave here after receiving intense treatment and making meaningful changes for themselves.”
While the majority of men initially participate in treatment as a means to obtain parole and other privileges, through treatment many of the men realize they want to change and to learn the skills needed to have a healthy lifestyle. Kaitlyn finds it rewarding to work in a program where she can see this shift from external to internal motivation. “It is really rewarding to be a part of this personal growth,” she says.
Kaitlyn first heard about the Massachusetts Loan Repayment Program (MLRP) during her post-doctoral training at the Massachusetts Treatment Center. Although at that time the center did not qualify under the MLRP, it has recently become a qualified site and she was accepted into the program this past December. She comments that the MLRP is valuable to her because “this is the job I want to be doing and the MLRP makes that feasible by reducing financial pressure.” By relieving some loan debt, the MLRP has also allowed her to advance her professional career by affording her the opportunity to attend trainings and conferences that help her in continuing to improve the program. She adds, “I find this work intrinsically rewarding, but it’s also nice to have loan repayment as an additional reward for working with such a challenging population.”