A $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has been awarded to Eastern Mennonite University’s MA in Counseling program to provide increased behavioral health treatment and counseling to underserved populations in the Shenandoah Valley region of western Virginia and beyond. Pre-professional counselors in the graduate program, who will provide the services as part of their requisite 600 hours of field placement, will also benefit from specific training and practical experience.
The four-year Expansion of Counseling in Underserved and Rural Areas (ECURA) program builds upon the counseling program’s current network of field placement sites, most of which are in federally designated rural and medically underserved communities, said counseling program director Teresa Haase.
The new program is projected to increase the number of licensed professional counselors who will then continue to serve in those areas and populations, Haase said.
The ECURA curriculum emphasizes interdisciplinary and interprofessional practice-based training. Special priority is given to the integration with fields of nursing and social work, field placement in rural, vulnerable and medically underserved communities, and exposure to clinical settings where behavioral health services and primary care are integrated, she added.
The program will serve residents through site placements in and around Rockingham, Augusta, Frederick and Fairfax counties, with potential expansion beyond these areas as the program continues.
Currently residents in these areas have access to a handful of nonprofit behavioral health clinics and private practices, even though needs are increasing, said MAC instructor Michael Horst, who co-wrote the grant with Haase.
Nearly 1.5 million Virginians have mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Approximately 300,000 have been diagnosed with a serious mental illness, and adults with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders number close to a quarter of a million. Yet more than half of adults with any mental illness are not receiving treatment or counseling, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found in a 2009-2013 survey.
Sixty percent of grant funds will pay yearly stipends of $10,000 to MAC interns and travel funds to support continued professional development, said Horst.
Additionally, the $1,280,870 of the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training funding will enable the ECURA program to develop more internship sites, hire an additional graduate assistant, and cover various administrative and other costs.
A portion will also be used to create and provide interdisciplinary and interprofessional training seminars for students, faculty and clinical supervisors, in collaboration with EMU’s nursing and social work departments. Trainings will focus on the skills and knowledge related to improving health outcomes; reducing medical barriers to care; an understanding of the behavioral component of chronic disease management; the roles and practice cultures of physicians, nurse, and other allied health workers such as community health workers; and the dynamics of effective collaborative teamwork, among other topics.
Students will also participate in a Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience (STAR) training, a program of EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, which provides tools to understand the physical, emotional and psychosocial effects of trauma on individuals and communities.
Founded in 1993 and with 250+ graduates to date, the counseling program is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. In 2016, it was recognized with an Outstanding Master’s Program Award from the American Counseling Association.