First In U.S. Distance Learning Program On Psychopharmacology Offered In Florida

By John Thomas, Associate Editor
November 1, 1999



Psychologists will soon be able to become more knowledgeable about psychopharmacology while sitting in their living rooms watching videos and via the Internet through a distance learning program offered by the University of Florida College of Health Professions.

The new program is believed to be the first university research-based course of instruction in psychopharmacology in the United States.

Ronald H. Rozensky, Ph.D., chair of the college, said the two-year eight-course program using the distributive learning model will begin after the first of the year for doctorate-level psychologists.

“The program will be knowledge-based and will not require a practicum. Its purpose is to enhance psychologists’ existing understanding about the use of psychotropic drugs in the treatment of mental illness,” Rozensky explained.

Gary Bert, program development manager for Intelicus of Orlando, which will administer the distance learning program, said the students enrolled in the program will be sent weekly video presentations to be viewed in the home or office.

The videos will include power point and other multi-media devices, Bert said. In addition, a workbook will be provided, additional readings will be assigned and overheads will be supplied to support the video lectures. Exams will be taken over the internet.

Students will have direct access to faculty members and administrators through the internet. A message board will allow participants to ask questions. Both the questions and answers from the instructors will be posted to allow all students to see them.

Further, students will be required to participate in once-a-week chatroom dialogue which will include a facilitator to help them better understand the material, Bert said.

Cost of the program will be $1,100 per course, with a discount rate of $870 for members of state psychological associations. Bert said the target number of students is 75. Those who start the course at any given time will remain together as a class through the eight courses.

Bert said the program is being marketed throughout Florida as well as Chicago, the D.C.-Maryland area, New York, New Jersey, Boston, Louisiana and Texas.

Anita Brown, Ph.D., head of the Psychology Department at Hampton University in Virginia, developed the curriculum for the course. Brown is one of the 10 graduates of the Defense Department’s Psychopharmacology program and recently returned to civilian life.

She explained that the course will follow a problem-focused approach throughout all courses in an effort to make the knowledge-based instruction more “real life.”

The first course, which will last 20 to 22 weeks, will deal with the biological basis of mental illness.

“The course will deal with basic science, including anatomy and biology, which will give the students a better understanding of behavior,” Brown said.

Other courses, which will last 16 to 18 weeks, will include neuroscience and neurochemistry; clinical and psychopharmacology; and professional issues dealing with standards of care and ways to integrate psychopharmacology into psychotherapy practice.

Following the four basic courses, participants will look broadly at specific mental illnesses, such as psychotic, anxiety, affective and bipolar disorders, she said.

Brown said the goal of the latter four courses are to provide a primer on how medicines are used, how to prescribe and in what doses. Adjunctive treatment and treatment of side affects will also be discussed, she said.

Using a problem-focused approach will require participants to take a soup to nuts look at how the physical and biological worlds interact and will allow for a more vertical integration of the new-found knowledge offered by the courses.

Brown said the course work will be rigorous and students will be expected to study from 12 to 15 hours a week.

(More information on the University of Florida’s distance education program in psychopharmacology can be found at www.rxpsychology.com.)

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