July 20, 2024
You are here:  Home  >  Economy  >  Current Article

Dubroff: Making psychology relevant for the 21st century economy


When a handful of young adults from Ventura County traveled to the Pacifica Graduate Institute campus in Carpinteria on June 2, it was a pivotal moment for both Pacifica and the Camarillo-based Project50 program that organized the field trip.

Project50, run by counselor Dexter Nunnery, is trying to provide troubled Black youths with a path toward success in the workplace and in life.

Leonie Mattison, the energetic new president at Pacifica, is on a mission to bring psychology closer to people who face the challenges of poverty, drugs and domestic violence in their daily lives.

Henry Dubroff
Henry Dubroff

The visit was a revelation for one of the teens, as Nunnery told me over the phone on June 6. She was taken with the institute’s leafy campus and inspired to follow her dream of going to college and eventually earning a degree at Pacifica. “We’re tapping into something that provides inspiration,” Nunnery said.

Mattison said she’s convinced that Pacifica “must reach out to the community if we are going to survive in the 21st century.” She’s set a goal of raising $53 million to train 1,500 licensed therapists over the next decade to reach into urban and rural communities to address “suicide, anxiety, mental illness…the problems we all are trying to overcome.”

And she sees the Central Coast, with its history of philanthropy and its recent brushes with disasters, as a launch pad for her idea to reinvent psychology as a more engaged profession. She wants to create certificate programs under the banner of Pacifica Extension to give new tools to health workers already in the field — and train a new generation coming out of community colleges.

I spoke with her by phone on June 6 after she addressed a summit on campus and spoke to her board about her plans. Reinventing the field of psychology may sound ambitious but for those of us who’ve gotten to know Mattison over the past few years, it’s a mission that’s tailor-made for her.  “It’s time to disrupt higher education,” she said.

Mattison is a native of Jamaica who raised kids, earned a Ph.D., wrote two books and held a full-time job while figuring out how to make it all work financially while living in Santa Barbara. She was chief operating officer at CommUnify before moving over to Pacifica last year as president.

Nunnery is a native of Mississippi who came to California years ago to pursue his innovative ideas about counseling and providing social services. His counseling program works with Ventura County Probation, Child Support Services and public defenders. “Leonia and I have a lot of passion that connects the same way,” he said.

Nunnery said he learned about Mattison and Pacifica through the Black Leadership Roundtable, an effort to connect Black leaders in the tri-county region that the Business Times helped launch in 2021. Nunnery said he learned about the roundtable effort from Travis Mack, a successful CEO in the IT field, and one of the group’s founding members.

Two things need to be said at this point. First, the cost of living on the Central Coast is so high that it adds an extra layer of complexity to mental health burdens for all of us – White, Black, Latino, Asian and Native American. That revelation came to me thanks to a study by the United Ways of California on the “real cost” of living in California.

Second, is that the mental health effects of the disasters we’ve all experienced are cumulative. Since the outbreak of the Thomas Fire in 2017, we’ve dealt with mudflows, mass shootings, more fires, floods and other tragedies that made national headlines. We relive it every time an anniversary comes around and the economic cost of mental health crises, while hard to measure, is not trivial.

Mattison’s desire to ‘open the field of psychology up” and give young people more tools to understand why thoughts of “drugs and suicide are showing up in their unconscious,” might just lead to something much bigger.

The first small step was that June 2 field trip from West Ventura County to the hillsides of Carpinteria. “They listened and they engaged,” Mattison said. “I applaud them for their courage.”

Henry Dubroff is the founder, owner and editor of the Pacific Coast Business Times. He can be reached at hdubroff@pacbiztimes.com.