Joshua Holland, PharmD, BCPP, PLPC
Cox Health Systems
Springfield, MO

Dr. Holland has a masters in Mental Health Counseling from Missouri State University and currently practice as a Behavioral Health Consultant for CoxHealth outpatient clinics and as a counselor for Ozarks Counseling Center in Springfield, MO. He graduated from North Dakota State University School of Pharmacy in 2008 with a Doctorate in Pharmacy. Dr. Holland has worked 9 years as a full-time psychiatric pharmacist at CoxHealth inpatient psychiatric hospital and still works there on a PRN basis.

There is a TEDTalk done by Johann Hari that I have watched a few times and shared many times over with others. I have included the link in the references at the end if you are interested in watching it. In the talk, he states that through his research and trying to find a reason for his own struggles with depression and anxiety he learned there are nine causes of depression. Of those nine, he stated that only two are primarily biological and the rest are due to a psychological need not being met. I noticed during my work as a psychiatric pharmacist that there was pain within the patients that medications could not heal. They could help, but not heal. Psychotherapy techniques have advanced to the point where they can provide healing and help people meet their psychological needs. I wanted to add these techniques to the ways in which I could help others feel better.

Obtaining a second degree and associated challenges

The best way to learn the techniques and theories behind psychotherapy is to go get a degree in counseling, clinical psychology, or social work. Each degree has its pros and cons, and I recommend looking into each prior to making a choice if going back to school is an option for you. They all have some overlap with each other in regards to scope of practice, but in general, counseling focuses on talk therapy techniques, clinical psychology focuses on diagnosis and testing, and social work focuses on social support systems and coordinating community resources.

The biggest changes to plan for involve time and finances, which is true with most big life decisions. Some universities provide classes at convenient times for people to maintain their full-time jobs; however, it will be hard to maintain a full-time job during the practicum/internship phase of the programs. After graduation, most of the professions require supervised hours, which would require someone to go part-time as a pharmacist. I wanted to get my hours done so I went to full-time counseling and PRN as a pharmacist. I worked about 1 to 2 days in the pharmacy a month and finished my provisional hours in 3 years.

Non-secondary school options

For those where getting a second degree is not an option, I would recommend learning from experience or self learning. There are opportunities to learn from the experiences of others or personal experience. I have found it beneficial to reach out to and make connections with social workers, counselors, psychologists, etc. to see if I can learn from them through conversations or education. I have also found it beneficial to attend their patient groups, one-on-one encounters, or any other opportunity to observe them utilizing their techniques and skills.

In regards to personal experience, I would recommend that someone try to learn and continue to practice the technique of motivational interviewing. This is a technique that helps health care professionals communicate with patients in a way that helps patients set up goals and obtain them. It is an important skill to begin mastering and probably the easiest for a pharmacist to obtain training in. There are also plenty of books and workbooks that can be purchased that are introductions to various techniques and theories of psychotherapy such cognitive behavioral therapy, anger management, self-compassion, and self-esteem to name a few. I recently went through training that was provided by three counselors that focused on education surrounding trauma-informed care and how the nervous system responds to various environmental stimuli. I would recommend checking out their two podcasts, Notice That and Beyond Trauma, on their website

Know yourself

My last suggestion is that no matter which route one chooses they should go through their own counseling. I learned just as much from going to see a counselor myself as I did during school. I believe that we cannot fully help others with their needs and feelings until we fully understand and know how to manage our own. A good therapist can help someone know more about who they are and why they make the choices that they do. I would recommend using a search website to find local therapists and counseling centers in the area to begin the search to find a therapist. It is important to find someone that feels like the right fit so be open to the fact that it may take a few tries to achieve this.