A common question “Farm and Ranch Life” readers ask me is who they can consult for assistance with personal, family and behavioral health problems.  Finding behavioral health professionals who understand agriculture is difficult.  

There is no directory of agricultural behavioral health professionals.  Ask your doctor or local mental health clinics for recommendations.

Only six states have farmer-friendly telephone helplines and fewer have websites that are available to help agricultural and rural residents find the assistance they want:

Agriculture has two components: “agri” and “culture,” said the Leftenant Governor of Saskatchewan at a meeting I attended in Regina some years ago.  She was the official representative of the British monarchy in the province, hence the term “Leftenant Governor,” and also a psychologist.  

“In order to be effective in counseling farmers and ranchers,” she said, “counselours must understand the culture of people who raise food, and agricology (mainly a British term that refers to the study of agriculture), and the culture part is more important.”

The concept stuck with me.  It led me to suggest the need to train professionals in agricultural behavioral health, if they work with this population.

The precise profession of the behavioral healthcare provider whom agricultural people select is less important than the provider’s credibility as someone who understands the lifestyle and travails experienced by agricultural producers.

Characteristics of effective counselors include positive empathy for the client, along with genuineness and warmth, according to University of Calgary psychologists and researchers, Robert Carkhuff and Roger Truax.  These are necessary, but insufficient characteristics.

Research now shows that a high psychological skill level and knowledge of the cultural background of the client are also critical.  Counselors must be familiar with the way of life of the persons they serve in order to be effective.

Farm and ranch people should ask potential providers if they understand agricultural issues and activities, because these matters are usually integrated into the problems for which they are seeking help.  

Is the provider’s profession important?  It can be.  They have different training, skills and approaches to giving care.

Psychiatrists and other physicians such as family doctors and pediatricians, as well as advanced registered nurse practitioners (ARNPs) and physician assistants (PAs), are trained in medicine, but to different levels.  All are usually licensed to prescribe medications, but in some states ARNPs and PAs must work under physician supervision.  

Psychiatrists are medical or osteopathic doctors who have completed a four-year residency in psychiatry beyond their MD or DO degree.  ARNPs and PAs usually have completed a two year program leading to a master’s degree, but the terminal degree of nurse practitioners is moving toward a four-year Doctor of Nursing Practice.

A medical approach to behavioral healthcare usually involves medications to restore maladjusted behavior to wellness, but verbal counseling to manage behavior is also recognized as important.  Medical practitioners generally spend less time with patients than trained counselors spend with patients and they typically have less training in psychological and social assessment and behavior intervention techniques.

The counseling professions include social work, marriage and family therapy, mental health counseling, substance abuse counseling, pastoral counseling and psychology.  

Social workers’ training is at the bachelor, master or doctoral level in case work, administration or counseling and their work varies accordingly; only master or doctoral level social workers whose training has emphasized counseling are licensed to diagnose and counsel people with behavioral health problems.

Marriage and family therapists, mental health, substance abuse and pastoral counselors usually have completed a master’s degree, and occasionally a doctoral degree in their specialization.  Capacity to diagnose and treat persons within their areas of training varies according to state licensing requirements.  Usually pastoral counselors do not make mental health diagnoses and do not receive reimbursement from health insurers unless they are certified pastoral counselors who are licensed.

Psychologists complete 4-6 years of graduate training and an internship that focus on the science and treatment of behavioral health issues.  There are many areas of psychology, such as child, clinical, organizational and social psychology; a doctorate is the terminal degree.   

Licensed psychologists diagnose and treat behavioral disorders through assessment techniques that may include psychological testing and systematic observation; they are trained in psychotherapeutic techniques to help people change and manage their behaviors.  A few states allow psychologists with training in pharmacology to prescribe psychotropic medications.

The best counselors for farm people sometimes do not have a degree in a medical or behavioral health field but they are wise, caring and trustworthy persons who can offer good advice.  They might be veterinarians, Extension personnel, neighbors or friends.

Usually they have natural skills and have learned much from the school of hard knocks. 

But don’t be afraid to consult a professional for serious behavioral health concerns.

Dr. Rosmann is a clinical psychologist, adjunct professor and farmer who lives at Harlan, Iowa.  To contact him, see the website: www.agbehavioralhealth.com