Psychologist Lesley Lutes is passionate about mental health
May 11, 2021
Okanagan (Kelowna, BC)
PhD, Virginia Tech
Predoctoral Internship, University of Florida
“This is important. It is the right thing to do. There is nothing we can’t do…together.”
DURING UNPRECEDENTED TIMES, WE NEED UNPRECEDENTED COMPASSION. And this is familiar territory for Lesley Lutes. The internationally recognized researcher, UBC Okanagan professor of psychology and registered psychologist has teamed up with fellow psychologists and nurses to support front-line workers during the COVID-19 crisis.
This service is a partnership between UBC Okanagan, the BC Psychological Association (BCPA) and Association of Nurses and Nurse Practitioners of BC (NNPBC) and will provide free telephone-based psychological first aid services to any front-line health care worker.
As director of public advocacy for BCPA, she believed the profession of psychology could provide some much-needed support. In less than a week, over 160 registered psychologists stepped up to help volunteer their time, webinars were developed and completed to discuss best practice and all administrative, structural, and IT supports were put in place in order to make this idea become reality as provision of service started.
“The mental health of our front-line healthcare workers needs to be a top priority,” says Lutes, director of clinical training at UBC Okanagan’s Department of Psychology. “The COVID-19 challenge created unprecedented circumstances and immediate action was required to provide support to this community.”
CLINICAL CARE FOR THE PUBLIC
Lutes, a professor in the Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences, has a strong history of providing care to those in need.
For example, in the fall of 2018 Lutes spearheaded the opening of the “walk-in wellness clinic.” She believes this was a game-changer of how mental health is seen. “This is a space where community members can drop in for free mental health services without an appointment or referral. It’s altering the way people are accessing mental healthcare.”
This is the first public walk-in mental health clinic on a BC university campus and it was launched to address urgent issues related to mental health. It not only provides support to community members in distress but also trains students in the future of health care delivery.
“We established this clinic because we know that life is stressful for everyone at times. We want people to know there are evidenced-based care resources available to them free of charge,” says Lutes. Also, she noted that the World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as physical, social, and emotional well-being – not just the absence of disease. She believed it was time to bring the evidence-based science showing that whether it is mental health or physical health – it is all health. It is all connected.
Initially, the clinic started out as a five-week unfunded pilot project. But thanks to the generosity of a private donor, it evolved to providing service for two years. Its mission is two-fold: to offer much needed support to students and the public and to train the next generation of psychologists.
Within the first year of operation, UBC made the decision to provide permanent funding and expand its hours.
During COVID-19, Lutes and her team transitioned the walk-in clinic into a virtual support tool available to the BC community.
“Mental health doesn’t go away in a crisis; in fact, it gets worse,” she says.
HEALTHY WEIGHT AND HAPPY LIVING
When she first arrived at UBCO to direct the new doctoral program in clinical psychology in 2015, Lutes — in partnership with the School of Social Work — launched the Interprofessional Clinic. The Healthy Weight Specialty Service was one of their first offerings.
The service is led by doctoral students under the supervision of Lutes and forms part of the students’ degree program. Mentoring and training doctoral students is a priority for Lutes: “providing good client support while educating students in evidence-based and the next generation of care is what makes UBCO’s clinical psychology program special.”
The healthy weight service offers assessment and treatment of a number of health and weight-related issues, including obesity, binge-eating and emotional eating disorders, weight gain prevention, nutrition and physical activity changes.
Lutes encourages clients to make small changes toward healthy eating by making changes one meal or one choice at a time. This strategy is based on two decades of experience and research which led her to conclude that small changes can be more effective than drastic alterations for some people seeking to improve their health.
“To date we’ve treated over 2,000 patients in several clinical trials across two different countries over the last decade,” she says. “It’s not about the number on the scale. These small changes can be maintained over time and result in significant changes that make people healthier and happier, emotionally and physically.”
Her commitment to student training is also reflected in her incoming role as president-elect of the Canadian Council for Professional Psychology Programs (CCPPP). This Council provides support, guidance, and direction to over 86 doctoral and residency programs across the country training the next generation of psychologists.
With her team approach and institutional collaborations Lutes’ optimism can be summarized by her own mantra, “This is important. It is the right thing to do. There is nothing we can’t do…together.”