Mental Health Spotlight: Dr. Brian Daly

Mental Health providers may not be thanked often, portrayed in movies as superhuman or wear capes to work but make no mistake, they’re heroes.

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They’re responsible for helping those who need it most, which can be a tough challenge when patients struggle with mental health conditions, often resulting in poor engagement, motivation, and treatment compliance.

This is our effort to do a little for them and recognize the group of professionals that do so much for us.

Every Monday we are going to take a few minutes and do just this.

To all of the mental health providers out there, thank you.

First up in our Mental Health Spotlight: Brian Daly, PhD.

Dr. Daly specializes as a pediatric psychologist where he practices in his private practice based in Philadelphia, PA, Center City Psychological Services.

Brian Daly, PhD. (Photo Courtesy of Center City Psychological Services)

Daly doesn’t care just about his own practice though — he cares about educating the next generation of mental health professionals so they can make an impact when he’s long retired. Daly is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at Drexel University and the Director of Clinical Training.

How did you become interested in the field of psychology and specifically treating children and adolescence?

Both my parents worked in the “helping” professions (a nurse and a doctor) and while their focus was on intervening to help people with their physical ailments, I was always more interested in understanding people from a psychological level and then helping them develop coping strategies to improve their mental health.

After my initial clinical experience working with adults with serious mental illness (e.g., schizophrenia), I next worked with college students. What I learned from working with this population was that some, if not many, of their challenges could be traced back to childhood. And just like that, working with adolescents and children was my passion.

I saw the value of getting parents involved in the treatment strategies and serving as collaborative agents of change. I also saw that if intervention was successful, you could potentially change the trajectory of the adolescent’s life in a positive direction.

How has psychology changed from when you started practicing? Most of us have smart phones — has technology played a big piece in the evolution of mental health?

When I first entered the field of psychology, the use of technology in clinical practice was frequently viewed with skepticism and the technologies themselves were often not well developed for use in the field of mental health.

I have seen an increased openness to the use of technology as an adjunct in clinical practice and the technologies themselves have made rapid advancements in ease of use, available features, and effectiveness.

My personal view has always been that I am open to any techniques or strategies that help my clients get better faster. Technology is ubiquitous in today’s society and mental health practitioners like myself should be open and willing to incorporate technologies into their practice if there is a likelihood of enhancing treatment outcomes.

There are many angles and approaches to mental health science and the way we treat illness. From your perspective, how do you simplify what every client should know about care?

Mental health practitioners should not just be interventionists, they should also be educators and stewards of knowledge. An important role for me as a mental health practitioner is to educate clients about the science behind, and treatment of, mental health.

I do not utilize a one size fits all approach to educating patents. I try to be thoughtful about using developmentally appropriate language and concepts that are easily understandable by the clients with whom I work — which are often kids and their parents.

I also consider it my responsibility as a mental health practitioner to disseminate scientific and psychological knowledge through professional and public outlets. Our goal as mental health providers is to reduce the prevalence and burden of mental health problems, and for that reason I am a big proponent of sharing what we know about psychology with everyone.

One of the biggest hurdles for clients who are seeking help is adherence to therapy. How do you develop a process that is more engaging and promotes retention?

Establishing a collaborative and trusting relationship with your client is paramount to enhancing engagement and promoting retention. However, even in the context of a trusting and supportive relationship, behavior change is hard.

In my opinion, mental health practitioners need to be creative in how they keep clients engaged in the hard process of behavior change. Technologies that address factors that may undermine behavior change and engagement can be a very useful tool for therapists.

If you had a magic wand and could fix one element of our healthcare system today, where would you start?

The mental health system is really fractured and many clients and their family members experience significant frustration with accessing high-quality and convenient mental health care.

My magic wand would change the structural inefficiencies, provide higher-quality training in evidence-based practices to aspiring mental health practitioners, and change reimbursement rates to a level that is equivalent to physical problems.

Mental health problems cause significant morbidity, and even mortality, but as a society we don’t take them as seriously as we do physical health problems, and to me that is a woeful mistake.

Twenty years from now, [fill in the blank] will be the biggest reason why clients are getting better mental health services (and why).

Twenty years from now, policy changes at the highest levels of government due to intense grassroots activism for mental health parity will be the biggest reason that clients have improved access to care and more high-quality mental health services.

When society treat mental health promotion with the serious attention it deserves, policies that support both prevention and mental health treatment will spur positive change. Fortunately, it appears this shift is occuring.

It seems to be a catalyst for a second advancement in technology that can identify warning signs, improve engagement and intervene early.

Why do you love what you do?

This goes back to why I was initially drawn to the field of psychology. I love to meet people, learn about their many strengths as well as the areas of challenge, and then develop strategies with them to improve specific or global aspects of their life, either through my research studies or through my clinical practice.

The human experience is complicated and I feel energized by the opportunity to always be learning about psychology, people, and evidence-based techniques that can best help them. I feel grateful to be part of those moments when my clients better understand their challenges, put in the hard work to address those challenges, and can realize and enjoy their positive life changes.