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WVU professor's prevention-focused mental health care education wins Journal of Social Work's Best Teaching Note

Carrie Rishel
When the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2009, it brought with it new availability of social work services. Even more importantly, experts say, it signaled a change in preventative mental health care – identifying and helping those who may be at risk.

With recent incidents of gun violence across the country building a renewed focus on mental health, Carrie Rishel, associate professor in the School of Social Work at West Virginia University, said social workers have a unique role to play in such care.

By training social workers to be aware of potential risk identifiers, in addition to traditional methods of mental health care, a plan of care can be outlined and deployed.

“Continuing with traditional focus on waiting until a crisis happens, when people are struggling, and then trying to treat the problem is not likely to decrease the number of people suffering,” Rishel said.

Rishel outlined the importance of prevention efforts in her 2014 Journal of Social Work Education article, “Teaching Note – Integrating Prevention Content Into Clinical Social Work Practice Courses.”

The paper has been selected as the best Teaching Note submission of the year by the Journal of Social Work Education.

“This is an area of research I’m really passionate about, so it’s nice to have recognition from such a high caliber journal in the field,” Rishel said.

Rishel serves as Director of the Integrated Mental and Behavioral Health Training Program (IMBTP) within the WVU MSW program. This training program, supported by federal grants through the US Department of Health and Human Services, prepares MSW students to apply a prevention-focused approach to address the mental and behavioral health needs of children and families.

In the new focus, students are taught to be aware of risk factors in three areas: The individual, family, and environmental levels.

“If we are working with a mother who has depression or is struggling with depressive symptoms, we know from the research that her children are at really high risk of developing mental health problems,” she said. “We can do proactive, preventive intervention with that family, and the children, to see if those problems can be addressed early on.

“If we can expand our viewpoint and see the opportunities for intervening ahead of time, then we can have a greater impact,” she said.