Telehealth Provides Mental Health Services to Rural Texas

Written by: CEHD Communications Staff
Post date: March 30, 2011

Capitalizing on videoconferencing and internet opportunities, a Texas A&M University-led team is providing mental health services to rural residents who might not otherwise have such vital assistance because of their remote locations.

The program, called Telehealth, is operated by the Department of Educational Psychology in Texas A&M's College of Education and Human Development in cooperation with other Texas A&M and local government health entities. It is the first program of its kind to be supported by a community group.

Telehealth uses videoconferencing equipment and a secure internet connection with a television-speed refresh rate. The Telehealth program is the culmination of efforts by the Brazos Valley Health Partnership—a nonprofit entity comprised of seven Brazos Valley counties, two advisory groups and the Center for Community Health Development—to better meet the mental health needs of rural residents.

It got its start in part as the result of a survey conducted by the Center for Community Health Development (CCHD) in the School for Rural Public Health, which is part of the Texas A&M Health Science Center. The Telehealth team is planning to expand into Madisonville and possibly build a partnership with Prairie View A&M to offer mental health services programs in those areas, notes Timothy Elliott, Texas A&M professor of counseling psychology.

The service operates out of the Leon County Health Resource Center in Centerville and the Counseling and Assessment Clinic (CAC), which is located in Bryan and run by the Department of Educational Psychology at Texas A&M.

"Basically what we're doing is trying to take the CAC and all its services that are available to people in Bryan/College Station and use long-distance technology to provide these same services throughout the Brazos Valley," Elliott says.

"Telehealth is consistent with the mission of Texas A&M University and certainly with our college, and it reflects what we can be doing with applied science and community outreach," Elliott emphasizes.

"It's certainly being responsive to a group of people who encounter disparities in services simply by the virtue of where they live." Rural residents, he observes, experience significant disparities in their ability to access mental health services due to factors such as travel time, expenditures, lack of health insurance and a shortage of eligible providers.

An individual with mental health problems living in Leon County, for example, would have to drive approximately 60 miles to Bryan to see a therapist for a 45-minute session. Then that individual would have to trek another 60 miles back home. Telehealth, however, brings that mental health provider as close as the local public health center.

"By using Telehealth to provide mental health services at the local health resource center free of charge, we increase residents' abilities to access much-needed mental health services," Elliott notes.

Three counseling psychology doctoral students, including Kirsten Salerno, Gerardo Gonzalez and Meredith Williamson, provide Telehealth assessment and counseling services at least twice a week.

Some sessions are available in Spanish. The doctoral students gain valuable experience and are supervised by counseling psychology faculty, who are accredited by the American Psychological Association.

Other participants in the project include Monica Wendel, director of the Center for Community Health Development at the Texas A&M Health Science Center; Linda Castillo and Daniel Brossart, both Texas A&M associate professors of counseling psychology; and community leaders in Centerville and Leon County.