Beth Briggs is a 2015 graduate of the PsyD Program in Clinical Psychology at Antioch University, New England

Dissertation Committee:

  • Susan Hawes, PhD, Committee Chair
  • James Fauth, PhD, Committee Member
  • Gina Pasquale, PsyD, Committee Member


rural mental health, professional psychology, underserved populations, survey research, psychologists, recruitment, rural private practice, retention

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There are too few mental health providers to meet the needs of residents of rural communities. Rural inhabitants often present for treatment with severe symptoms, high risk for suicide, comorbid chronic health conditions, and socioeconomic stressors. It is difficult to recruit psychologists to rural communities due to limited training in rural psychology, financial barriers to sustaining a practice, frequent ethical dilemmas posed by small towns, and limited cultural amenities. While there is a significant amount of scholarly literature describing the needs of this population and the challenges of maintaining a practice in such geographic regions, there is scarce literature on solutions to these problems. This study addressed this gap in the literature by exploring possible solutions for recruitment and retention of rural doctoral-level psychologists. Forty-eight psychologists practicing in towns with a population of 5,000 or fewer across the United States responded to mailed surveys inquiring about their background information, the factors which contributed to their initiation of and maintenance of a career in rural psychology, and their recommendations for improving recruitment and retention. Most participants worked in private practice providing individual psychotherapy and/or evaluation with adults despite having minimal training in rural mental health during graduate school. The most frequently listed reasons participants had chosen and maintained a rural practice were: a preference for a rural lifestyle, a desire to be close to family and friends, and the population. The most frequently reported suggestions for increasing the number of rural psychologists included: improved financial incentives, highlight the benefits of rural practice (e.g., limited competition, meaningful work), highlight the appeal of a rural lifestyle, and create a professional network of rural providers. Professional incentives such as owning a private practice, meaningful experiences in rural areas including being raised in a rural town, and completing predoctoral internship and postdoctoral fellowship in rural areas were salient factors for this study’s participants and in literature on rural physicians. Recruitment and retention efforts would benefit from targeting psychologists with a preference for and personal connections with rural towns, marketing the low cost of living to offset challenges to competitive salaries, and encouraging activities protective against burnout.