Mental Health Counseling Program Uses Technology to Address Community Needs
Published on: April 17, 2020
When Becker College first launched its Master of Arts in Mental Health Counseling (MMHC) program in 2014, the mission of the program was clear: Deliver high quality, hands-on training for graduate students while also addressing the mental health needs of the surrounding community. Consistent with that plan, the Community Counseling Clinic @ Becker College soon opened its doors on the College’s Leicester campus, providing low-cost mental health services to children, teens and adults living in the area. Since that time, the campus-community relationship has grown, and many have come to depend on the support they obtain at the clinic. Throughout the year, MMHC students provide weekly counseling to community residents under the direct supervision of licensed clinical faculty. This is the only mental health counseling program in Massachusetts that includes this type of intensive training as part of the students’ practicum experience.
So when Becker, like so many other colleges and universities, announced in March that remote learning would take place for the remainder of the spring semester, there were two challenges the program’s coordinator and MMHC students needed to surmount as a result of restrictions posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first was meeting the training needs of students completing practicum and internship placements, required for graduation and for state licensure in their professional field. The second was providing seamless client service. Social distancing and stay-at-home policies restricted clients and students from coming to campus, which meant that the MMHC students could not continue their practicum work in the campus-based clinic, and clients could not receive ongoing treatment.
“Mental health issues have escalated as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and present a growing national crisis,” said Beth Greenberg, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology and mental health counseling, and program coordinator of the MMHC. “Responding to the demands of the situation by utilizing technology to address mental health concerns is vital during this time of crisis for our clients.”
To support the education and training needs of the MMHC students, while also providing an important service to the community in a critical time of need, practicum course content was immediately adjusted to provide students with training in the provision of “tele-behavioral health” services. Clinic policies and practices were adapted to meet telehealth requirements. By the first week of April, students began providing online counseling services to community residents through the use of secure videoconferencing technology.
Greenberg said that careful efforts have been made to replicate the clinic-based counseling model as much as possible, for both the students and the clients. Every session is still supervised by one of the licensed clinical faculty, who logs into the session with the graduate student counselor and client, and then turns off the video and microphone, remaining present and available if needed.
Becker Professor Kerri Augusto, Ph.D., licensed clinical supervisor in the MMHC program, notes that this move to include training for online counseling prepares Becker students for an important aspect of their developing careers. “Remote mental health services are part of the new normal,” she says. “By providing graduate clinicians with supervised experience in remote counseling practices, we ensure they have the skills needed to reach more clients, expand their practices, and give more people access to mental health care.”
“We’ve created a win-win design,” said Greenberg. “Students continue to receive high-quality clinical training, and our clients receive the mental health services they need in this time of crisis.”
For more information about the College’s Master’s in Mental Health Counseling program, go to https://www.becker.edu/academic/academic-programs/graduate-education/mental-health-counseling/