We are glad to have Dr. Ronald Albucher as an advisor at Prairie Health. In his advisory role at Prairie, he leverages his years of working in student mental health to help guide the Prairie Team in providing quality care. We sat down with Dr. Albucher and asked him a few questions about his work.
Can you share a bit about yourself with our readers?
I trained at the University of Michigan in medicine and then had a residency in psychiatry. I’ve worked in student mental health, both at the University of Michigan and at Stanford, since 1994. At Stanford, I spent 9 years as the Director of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at the student health center. I’m also involved in teaching residents and doctoral students at Stanford.
What led you to become an advisor for Prairie?
I became an advisor for Prairie because I’m interested in supporting businesses dedicated to improving mental health care quality and delivery. We clinicians can learn so much from our colleagues in other fields, including genetics research and technology.
How will you be supporting Prairie moving forward?
I will be working in an advisory role to the company, advising on how outpatient mental health care can be delivered both by individual clinicians and care teams. I am also interested in how technology can help clinicians do our job more efficiently, allowing time for more direct patient care.
You’ve mentioned you’re excited that Prairie has a Care Partner on staff. Can you share why you think this is important?
People struggling with mental health can benefit from support to answer questions and normalize the experience, along with helping them remember to attend appointments, take medications, and maintain their basic health: diet, exercise, sleep, etc. Having a Care Partner to rely on can make a big difference in outcomes.
Many people have trouble finding a mental health support system that fits them. What should they look for when searching for a good psychiatrist, therapist, or other support?
The data shows that the best outcomes come from doctor-patient relationships where the patient feels heard, sees that their doctor is working with them as part of a team, and sees that their doctor can admit if they are stuck and will get an outside consultation. As a patient, make sure to advocate for yourself. Ask yourself: what are you looking for? Are there parts of the treatment you really like or dislike? Are you benefiting from care?
What separates a good psychiatrist from a great psychiatrist?
The best doctors, psychiatrists, and therapists share common features. These clinicians are curious, up-to-date on the latest advances, and constantly looking to improve. They seek out supervision and collegial support, take time to read and attend training, and enjoy what they do. They’re the kind of people who learn from their mistakes and stay flexible, changing course as needed. These professionals consistently get better outcomes with a wide range of cases.
Mental healthcare professionals also have to assess the people they come into contact with. How do you assess whether you’re right for a patient and how to begin treating them?
Personally, I want to see that I am helping someone improve by the sixth or seventh visit. If I’m not helping them by that point, then I’ll bring it up with the patient, ask if they are also seeing that problem, and try to understand why it may be occurring. I will also try to change my approach, not expect them to improve if I continue to do the same thing. I may also suggest either a consultation to help us get unstuck or suggest a referral to another provider.
What would you say to someone who’s skeptical about taking medication for their mental health?
First, have a discussion with your treatment provider and get as much information about the recommended treatments as possible. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or do your own research. Read about the treatments at reputable medical sites online. Consider speaking with people who have been through care already. Also, remember that psychotherapy and supportive care are effective, too. It may make sense to try these before or alongside trying medication.
You’ve conducted research on mental health issues in the LGBTQ community in the past. How does your approach to treating LGBTQ patients differ from your other patients?
Psychologically, I work from an attachment perspective. A common difficulty in the LGBTQ community is the fear of loss or abandonment for being oneself or “coming out” to others. This can lead to the development of a “false self”. Those in the LGBTQ community are known to experience higher rates of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. The LGBTQ-affirming clinician attends to these issues, creates a sense of safety for their patient, and helps the patient work through mixed feelings due to prior attachment failures that have occurred within their family of origin and their particular culture.
How can other mental health professionals better serve members of the LGBTQ community?
Mental health professionals can increase their knowledge and sensitivity to the life experiences of LGBTQ people. This can be done by exploring art, film, and literature touching on the LGBTQ experience; attending lectures on topics pertaining to the community; and developing friendships with LGBTQ colleagues and friends. Moreover, our patients will educate us as we listen to them. Professionals shouldn’t be afraid to ask their patients questions if they do not understand.
Dr. Albucher is a member of Prairie’s advisory board, helping ensure Prairie delivers positive outcomes for our members. Learn more about our advisory board: