When I asked Nicholas Covino, PsyD why he began working in the education of mental health professionals, he responded, “Young people think that if they focus on the right path, it will work for them. I’m quite certain, because I’ve got the benefit of years to look back on, most of the goods things that have happened to me have been by chance.” He later adds, “Most things that happen that are good, they happen by accident.”
When Dr. Covino began teaching high school, he took an interest in hearing about the lives of his students. With experience as a guiding figure through his religious life as a Jesuit, he felt drawn towards counseling others. Galvanized by this passion and a series of fortunate events, Dr. Covino began working at a mental health clinic where a mentor soon encouraged him to get a doctoral degree.
After receiving his PsyD from the University of Denver, Dr. Covino conducted his internship at Beth Israel hospital. With training as both a psychoanalyst—long term therapy—and in a hospital setting—short term therapy, he has held titles ranging from Director of Psychology and Director of Training at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, to President of the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis. Regarding his own success, Dr. Covino shared, “If you’re responsible and you’re committed to the work that you do, so you are learning about it all the time, you’re trying to do your best with it, you’re engaging with people that are doing the best about it, then chance will create opportunities for you, and sort of what you do with those opportunities is what matters. If you are afraid to take a risk, if you don’t prepare when something opens itself to you, then you don’t do well.”
While his resume is impressive, Dr. Covino’s lasting impact will be his commitment to improve the field through his role as President of William James College. This school of psychology is unique for its focus on experiential learning, and, under Dr. Covino’s lead, the school has adopted and emphasized the principle of diversification as a core tenant in addressing the current mental health necessities for society. Dedicated to improving the next generation of mental health professionals, Dr. Covino is focused on finding groups that need representation in the field.
Dr. Covino notes that “familiarity” is key to allowing people to open up to the professionals that are supposed to support them. As a result, he created the Train Vets to Treat Vets Program because veterans can truly understand the mental health needs of their fellow servicemen and women. Similarly, he understands the need to diversify the clearly homogeneous mental health field, where 90% of professionals are white. Studies have shown that an individual is more likely to continue with therapy longer if he or she and his or her therapist share the same race, which means greater success in therapy. In fact, according to Dr. Covino, there is only a 50% chance that a Spanish-speaking individual will return to an Anglo provider after the first session of therapy. Dr. Covino created the Lucero Latino Mental Health Training Program at William James College to combat this systemic issue by giving Latino mental health professionals the tools to serve other Latino people.
Drawing a similarity to the introduction of women in medicine and noting the need for diverse leadership, Dr. Covino recalls, “The kinds of discussions that happen, the ways people are trained, the kinds of engagements with patients, they’re very different because females are there.” He explains that women’s leadership transformed this field that was previously dominated by men. With greater diversification of the field, there can be better conversations regarding inequalities and, in theory, can help rectify the disparities. For example, it is extremely likely that a black boy with behavioral problems will be diagnosed with conduct disorder, while a white boy with the same issues will be diagnosed with ADHD. Dr. Covino explains, “The discussions will be different. The kinds of things that will be done with kids will be different. The choices will be different. The health care policy will be different.”
Dr. Covino also notes the value of de-stigmatizing anxiety and depression and “treating them like cancer.” Whereas the Jimmy Fund raises money for pediatric cancer patients, who are one in three hundred and thirty, no such initiative exists for the two out of ten children that have a mental illness. Similarly, a child with cancer can go to the Jimmy Fund today and see an oncologist. However, for many, especially low-income people, the waiting lists for mental health professionals are absurdly long. Further, powerful families and businesses need to publicly acknowledge the issues regarding stigma and access to care.
Today, the media portrays people who are mentally ill as violent; however, Dr. Covino explains that this narrative only describes a small percentage of all mentally ill people. In fact, he adds, “Walk through a building. Walk through a mall. Everyone has someone very close to them with a major mental illness: substance abuse, depression, anxiety, ADHD.” People with neuroses are a tacit fraction, but they are functioning members of society nonetheless. Dr. Covino reminds us all, “We have to move ourselves to a place where the face of mental health is yours and mine and our brothers and sisters and sons and daughters.”