A new model for U-M’s clinical psychology program marks a generational and gender transition.

As late as the 1980s, “clinical psych” was a powerhouse. Ranked second in the country by U.S. News & World Report, it graduated ten to fifteen PhDs a year, all trained in psycho-dynamic psychotherapy–the “talking cure” originated by Sigmund Freud. They usually underwent the treatment as well. “Therapy was not required but strongly recommended, and most did it,” recalls Jim Hansell, one of many graduates who stayed in town to launch private practices.

These days, the program graduates only about five PhDs a year–and none are spending time on armless couches. That “was a looooooong time ago,” says psychology department chair Theresa Lee. Today, she says, clinical psych grads do “research to find out what forms of treatment with particular kinds of disorders actually get the results you want.” To mark the transition, last year the program formally adopted a new educational model, called “clinical science.”

Back in the day, clinical psych grads got their clinical training at the Institute for Human Adjustment, parent of the university’s psychology clinic and Center for the Child and the Family. IHA, too, has gone through an intellectual revolution. Once entirely psychodynamic, it began to introduce other modes of treatment in the 1990s. The transition accelerated in 2009, when longtime director Bob Hatcher’s appointment was not renewed. Seeing the handwriting on the wall, more than a dozen psychodynamically trained therapists and supervisors have since left the clinics.

While Hatcher was a psychoanalyst, his successor, Cheryl King, trained in multiple therapeutic models. King says she’s not “wedded to methodology” and wants to create “a best-practices model … informed by the evidence base of effective treatments.”

The IHA’s new director of psychology training, Michelle Van Etten Lee, echoes King’s comments. “We are trying to train our clinicians to use a variety of [treatments], depending on what is the best fit for the patient,” she says. Lee’s own training is as a cognitive-behavioral therapist, a much shorter-term talk therapy that helps patients recognize and redirect troubling thought patterns.

Instead of PhDs in clinical psychology, U-M students who want to be therapists now typically earn Master’s of Social Work degrees–and unlike the predominantly male old guard, they are overwhelmingly female. MSW clinical assistant professor Julie Ribaudo says students learn a “mixture of evidence-based practices,” including psychodynamic, CBT, and a CBT variation called dialectical behavioral therapy, which incorporates meditation.

Tim Colenback, assistant dean of student services in the School of Social Work, says about 300 students will earn MSWs this year–and of those, “two-thirds to three-quarters plan on going into some kind of clinical work.” While some will become private therapists, others will work in schools, community mental health clinics, and not-for-profit agencies.

Colenback says that more students now are entering the MSW program immediately after completing their undergrad degrees. “It used to be that only half [of MSW students] were twenty-five or younger … now, at least seventy percent are twenty-five or younger.” He thinks that’s because students “are realizing it’s easier to get a job with the MSW than without it.”