Campus and Community / Faculty and Staff

Psychology Professor Tackles Stigma of Mental Health Treatment

Erlanger “Earl” Turner

Calm, even-tempered, perceptive and the ability to understand complex human behavior with a nimble mind for solving riddles and puzzles.

This is the skill set of Erlanger Turner.

“Initially, I wanted to be a pediatric physician, but I changed my major after taking a child psychology class,” said Turner, assistant professor of psychology at University of Houston-Downtown (UHD). “I’ve always known that I wanted to work with kids; it’s so rewarding.”

The licensed clinical psychologist specializes in treating children with disruptive behavior disorders, Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), and developmental disorders. In fact, he recently added a new class to UHD that discusses psychological disorders in children and adolescents.

While earning his Bachelor of Science in psychology from Louisiana State University, he assisted a professor who managed an ADHD clinic, and the experience served as his inspiration to continue his studies and research in this area. The Louisiana native went on to earn a master’s degree and Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Texas A&M University.

Turner joined the University in 2014 after completing a two-year fellowship at the Kennedy Krieger Institute through Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

“I chose UHD because I’ve always wanted to work in a minority-serving institution,” said the first-generation college graduate. “The campus’ diversity was a perfect fit.”

Turner is concerned with the stigma and cultural barriers associated with therapy within minority communities, citing that religion and spirituality may contribute to views on mental health.

Recently, he was named by the American Psychological Association (APA) as one of nine early career psychologists whose contributions in their fields are changing the world. Turner’s extensive research into mental health in the African-American community and the link between race-related stress and aggressive policing among African-Americans has garnered local and national media attention—the latter resulted in him giving a Congressional briefing and presenting the first lecture through the APA 125th Anniversary Speaker Series on March 13.

His current research is focused on understanding and removing the therapy stigma for African-American children and how access to therapy earlier in life can possibly alter a potential negative life path.

“For a lot of children growing up in an African-American home, you are taught to pray about it or it maybe go away on its own rather than go to a psychologist or therapist,” said Turner. “However, I think people are now starting to be more open to mental health and addressing their needs in terms of psychological and emotional functioning.”

As an active mentor in the UHD and Houston community, Turner volunteers with a Houston organization, Elliott Chandler Foundation, which mentors African-American male students. Last fall, he began mentoring in the First Time in College Mentoring (FTIC) program at UHD.

The author of numerous published works, he serves on the editorial boards for academic journals, and presently serves on the Behavioral Health National Project Advisory Committee through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health. He is a member of the APA, the Association of Black Psychologists, Society of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, Society for the Psychological Study of Culture, Ethnicity and Race, and Psychologists in Independent Practice. Currently, Dr. Turner serves as chair of the APA Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest.