Counseling program receives $1.01 million grant continuation to increase mental healthcare services

The Master’s in Counseling program at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) has been awarded a four-year grant continuation from the Health Resources and Services Administration to increase access to mental and behavioral healthcare in the Shenandoah Valley. The grant, which is funded through the administration’s Behavioral Health Workforce Education Training program, will provide $1.01 million to the counseling department to support counseling students in internships in high-demand clinics and provider offices. 

The department was first awarded this grant in 2017, when it received $1.28 million to be used over the past four years.

“We were able to fund almost all of our internship students with $10,000 stipends, expand our partnerships with internship placements in rural and medically underserved areas, design and implement a series of interprofessional seminars each year, and host expert speakers,” said Professor Michael Horst, director of the counseling program. 

Once again, counseling students who are serving in high need and high demand areas will each receive a $10,000 stipend, and the remaining 38% of the funds will go towards trainings for students, faculty, and site supervisors. The goal of the project is to fund the work of 63 interns over the next four years. 

The stipends “are meant to defray costs of living, so they don’t need to go towards things like tuition or books, and, through federal funding, recognize the vital importance of the services our students provide to our communities,” said Horst.

This initiative, dubbed the Interdisciplinary Education In Action (IDEA) Project continues and builds upon the work started under the first round of grant funding: the ECURA Program, which stood for Expansion of Counseling in Underserved and Rural Areas.

Horst said the same unmet need for counseling and behavioral health services “has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” with many providers he knows operating with long waiting lists for services.

Trainings will be led by expert speakers, such as Dr. Bonnie Badenoch, who spoke to program participants last year about the interpersonal neurobiology of trauma. Future educational opportunities will also focus  on trauma-informed and resilience-focused practices, as well as telecounseling ethics and efficacy. 

“Telehealth was growing before COVID, but it has exploded since,” Horst said. 

Another component of the project is a series of interdisciplinary seminars, which will be designed by faculty from the fields of counseling, social work, nursing, and psychology, to benefit all of their students.

Founded in 1993, the counseling program is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs.