The University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work has received a $1.9 million grant to train more social work and counseling psychology clinicians to deliver culturally competent behavioral health services in medical settings, addressing a critical statewide shortage of mental health professionals. While 60% of the mental health services in Texas are currently provided by social workers, the number of both social workers and clinical psychologists is declining.
The funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration provides funding for the Global Leaders of Behavioral Health Education program, or GLOBE team training, to increase the number of behavioral health workers targeting children, youth and young adults in medically underserved areas.
Texas ranks near the bottom nationwide in access to mental health services, an issue even more complex in Harris County where 25% of residents are foreign born – 40% of those speak a language other than English in their homes. More than half of Houston’s youth are Hispanic. Project director McClain Sampson, associate professor of social work, stresses that cultural competence goes far beyond just speaking the same language.
“Cultural humility is really what we’re trying to foster when serving the needs of these diverse populations,” she said. “When people do not feel seen, heard or validated, they’re likely not going to keep seeking care at the same place, and more and more people are choosing to not go back at all. We’re working to improve care and the connections that can be made with patients.”
Given Houston’s rapid growth and vast ethnic and racial diversity, strengthening the pipeline of multi-cultural graduates who are competent in serving diverse populations is essential, according to Sampson.
Since 2012, the GLOBE team training program has worked to improve resources for vulnerable youth populations at risk for mental health and substance abuse disorders. This latest project will train 18 Master of Social Work (MSW) and four counseling psychology graduate students per year with an emphasis on interprofessional training. Students will also be trained in health disparities, telehealth, motivational interviewing and more.
Overcoming the challenges of a fragmented health care system by promoting integrated care – when social workers, psychologists, medical doctors and even lawyers work together for the well-being of patients – is at the core of the project’s curriculum. Sampson calls interprofessional collaboration the root of “good community medicine.”
"When behavioral health professionals are working alongside primary care and specialty medical care, we have less return for admission, more successful discharges and higher levels of patient satisfaction,” said Sampson. “This program provides a seat at the table for social work and psychology to be present when important medical decisions are being made, and to help empower patients.”
Since the inception of the program, more than 100 students have received the GLOBE fellowship and many have gone on to be employed at local hospitals, primary care clinics and research projects that deliver mental health counseling and substance abuse prevention.