LU awarded $1.8 million to enhance school counselor mental health training program

Published 9:43 am Thursday, September 21, 2017

Lamar University has been awarded a $1.8 million four-year grant through the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Bureau of Health Workforce Education and Training to implement an interdisciplinary model for behavioral health prevention and intervention in local area schools and agencies.

The College of Education and Human Development’s School Counseling Program was awarded the funding for training school counselors by establishing a program called “IMPaCT: Integrative Mentoring Partnerships and Crisis Teams.”

The primary goal of IMPaCT is to increase the number of highly trained behavioral health specialists in local schools and agencies who can provide services to children, adolescents and transition-age youth (that is, young adults between 16 and 25 who are transitioning out of child/adolescent agency services and into adult services or into the community) who are at-risk of developing or who have a recognized behavioral health disorder.

Rebecca Weinbaum, associate professor and chair of the Department of Counseling and Special Populations in LU’s College of Education and Human Development, serves as the director of IMPaCT.

“This grant will enable the college to further enhance the preparation of our school counseling graduates while meeting critical needs in our schools and communities,” said Robert Spina, dean of the College of Education and Human Development.  “I am excited for the students who will participate in this new initiative and grateful to Dr. Weinbaum for her leadership in developing the proposal.”

“The idea evolved from some really good conversations with local law enforcement professionals and first responders to find out the needs and resources in the community,” said Weinbaum, who holds a Ph.D. from Sam Houston State University, and is a Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor and Certified School Counselor.  “Conversations with each of these entities went in different directions of course, but the major theme they had in common was that we can do a better job supporting our first responders and understanding crisis services in the community.”

“We’re also a medically underserved area,” she said, “so it’s important to put highly qualified counseling professionals in our schools so that they can be on the front lines when it comes to coordinating mental health services.”

Developing the IMPaCT program coincides with implementation of “mental health first aid” as a requirement in all Texas public schools. “With that in place in our public schools, we can build a program that will utilize peer mentoring to help build teams of support for those professionals,” she said.  “The key is to help school counselors meet mental health needs by linking with some highly-specialized experts from the community.”

“Developing interdisciplinary peer mentoring experiences is the key component of the program,” she said. In the first year of the four-year grant, students currently in LU’s program will apply for the special opportunity under IMPaCT for field experience in the schools as well as peer mentoring in the community.

The peer mentoring partnerships can include law enforcement officers, community crisis team members, first responders, nurse practitioners, behavioral health agencies, primary care organizations for children and adolescents, faith-based organizations providing services and direction to at-risk youth, and other identified members of the community who are invested in promoting mental health for children, adolescents and transitional-age youth.

IMPaCT will also provide real-world experiences beyond the school setting for counselors-in-training to build community networks with peer mentors for addressing suicide prevention, crisis and grief, substance abuse, and emotional factors associated with crisis work,”Weinbaum said.

“We also plan to create a mental health or crisis resource interactive map,” Weinbaum said. Student interns will help create the resource map to help providers in the region network to create a crisis-team-approach for behavioral health services,” she said.

“Mental health services are important is so many fields,” she said. “We have our teachers trained in mental health first aid. The medical field is integrating mental health into its holistic approach to medicine. In crisis work, we have stages of grief for crisis victims and support needs for crisis workers. The more we view services in an integrated manner the better we can serve all populations—especially our children and youth.”