What started with an initial grant awarded in 2007 to Leon County and the Center for Community Health Development (CCHD) to provide innovative counseling services in a rural setting is expanding to serve residents in communities throughout the Brazos Valley.
Through high-quality videoconferencing, the TeleHealth Counseling Clinic (TCC) provides free access to mental health counseling and assessment for individuals and families who might not otherwise receive these services at all. Last year, the clinic provided more than 350 counseling sessions to rural residents.
“Leon County was brave enough to be first; to be the example. Other counties took note because of the success in Centerville,” said Tim Elliott, Executive Director of the TeleHealth Counseling Clinic and professor in the department of Educational Psychology. “It has been delightful to see this grow to include Madison and Washington counties.”
The TCC evolved from an ongoing collaboration between community stakeholders, representatives from several key health care and social service agencies and colleagues at the College of Education and Human Development and CCHD in the School of Rural Public Health at Texas A&M University. The TCC worked with community leaders to expand services in rural clinics throughout the Brazos Valley.
Clients visit their local health center and receive counseling services within their own communities. Remote clinics are located in Centerville, Madisonville and Brenham. In 2014, future sites will be located in Navasota and Caldwell, bringing the total to five locations throughout the area.
Faculty and doctoral students from the American Psychological Association accredited counseling psychology program in the Department of Educational Psychology participate in counseling sessions as part of their practicum training. Supervised by licensed psychologists, doctoral students provide individual and couples counseling to adults and adolescents (13 and up) in English and Spanish. Outreach, workshops and assessments are available on a case-by-case basis.
“Access to services is the number one problem for rural areas. We don't have mental health providers there,” said Elliott. “Making arrangements for travel, having reliable transportation or even insurance are common obstacles, so a centralized location helps. As a district, the Brazos Valley is a health professional shortage area, and that includes Brazos County. We know there are critical needs in all the surrounding rural counties.”
Elliott attributes some of the center’s growth to existing partnerships already in place throughout the Brazos Valley and being able to take advantage of funding that accommodated new ways to provide care to underserved individuals in the communities.
The School of Rural Public Health sponsors the TCC as an extension of the Center for Community Health Development, providing space in one of the clinic buildings.
TCC director Carly McCord supervises the services provided by three graduate students, including assistantships Jessica Chang, Tanya Rendon and Julia Poritz. McCord was a graduate student in the counseling psychology program and provided counseling services at the first location in Centerville. Her work there helped pave the way for the expansion of services throughout the Brazos Valley. McCord is currently pursuing licensure under Elliott’s direction.
“We are possibly the only counseling psychology program in the country that provides this kind of psychology service in such a way that our doctoral students get needed clinical hours,” said Elliott. “Students are better prepared for internship placements and research opportunities. Through the program, they are working with people in the community to better understand health disparities and policy-related issues that concern health and well-being in rural areas.”
According to Elliott, when these students interview for positions, they are often the only candidates in the pool to have experience providing therapy over videoconferencing.
Since 2008, about 10 students have provided counseling services for the center. Many of the program’s graduates have continued this type of work for the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Veteran’s Administration (VA). One former student worked for Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, providing post-traumatic stress syndrome treatment for soldiers via videoconferencing all over the continent. Another now works as a “telehealth psychologist” for the Dallas VA, providing services exclusively via videoconferencing.
“The DOD and VA know we don't have enough psychologists or therapists to provide the services needed wherever service personnel are stationed,” said Elliott. “As a nation, we have so many people in remote areas and can’t get doctoral-level providers to move there. So we have to find different, innovative ways to provide the needed services.”
For the Brazos Valley, the TeleHealth Counseling Clinic is meeting the unique training needs and experiences for students to be competitive in the marketplace, while offering much-needed services to the community.
For more information, visit Telehealthcounseling.org, or contact Dr. Timothy Elliott, professor of educational psychology at 979.862.3095, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Kathy Koza, Communications Director at 979.845.7917, email@example.com.