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WVU Social Work program trains students to meet needs of rural West Virginia

The School of Social Work at West Virginia University is working to overcome the shortage of behavioral health care providers in rural and medically underserved communities in West Virginia. 

Carrie Rishel
Carrie Rishel

The Rural Integrated Behavioral Health Training program (formerly the Integrated Mental and Behavioral Health Training Program), which trains Master of Social Work students to work in these communities, has received its third cycle of funding from the Health Resources and Services Administration.

The $1.2 million award will support training for 80 students over a four-year period. The first 20 students will begin the program in 2018.

“This grant will benefit not only the students of the program, but have a ripple effect to benefit residents of the state,” said Carrie Rishel, professor of social work and director of the Rural Integrated Behavioral Training program.

Rishel and Social Work Professor Helen Hartnett have co-designed the training program.

Helen Hartnett
Helen Hartnett

This is the third cycle of funding from HRSA to administer a behavioral health training program for Master of Social Work students. Each additional cycle has expanded and targeted the program’s focus since the first wave of funding in 2012.

“Through every grant cycle, we’ve been able to learn from our evaluation of what’s working and what’s not working and then improve our program,” Hartnett said.

This award has expanded the program to train not only graduate students, but also their field instructors and other individuals around the University.  

This training program will also include a collaborative monthly workshop series for social work students as well as students preparing for careers in health sciences, such as pharmacy and nursing. This collaboration will help social work students learn what they need to know to communicate with health care professionals in the field. They will also learn leadership and advocacy to target behavioral health care problems in the state.

Savanna Brown
Savanna Brown

“They’ll be learning the direct skills but also how to communicate their vision in their community, state and country to shift the whole way services are offered,” Rishel said.

Social work alumna Savanna Brown reflects on how the program helped prepare her for her career as a clinical therapist with Community Care of West Virginia.

“My experiences with the program were overwhelmingly positive,” said Brown, who also serves in the Braxton County Comprehensive Healthy Lives Initiative, which partners with local law enforcement, the Department of Health and Human Resources, court systems and other community resources. “The program was an amazing experience that taught me a great deal about integrated settings, which I now work in, as well as how to competently approach and communicate with rural youth.”