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Appalachian helps teens through special counseling center

View larger imageBOONE—Mental health services in rural areas are often limited, especially for children and adolescents. Students encounter many barriers to receiving adequate mental health treatment. These include access, transportation, stigma and finances.

Dr. Kurt Michael, professor of psychology and former director of clinical services at Appalachian State University’s Institute for Health and Human Services (IHHS), envisioned a way to combat these barriers and to provide treatment to students with unmet behavioral and psychological needs.

The Assessment, Support and Counseling (ASC) Center at Watauga High School was formed in 2006 to address mental health concerns at the high school by linking the expertise of Appalachian and IHHS-affiliated licensed mental health providers, Watauga County Schools officials and New River Behavioral Healthcare clinicians by providing students in need with interdisciplinary intervention.

View larger imageDr. Kurt Michael, front row second from right, with Appalachian State University and Watauga High School colleagues who make possible the successful Assessment Support and Counseling Center. (Photo courtesy of Kurt Michael)

Its success has been written up in medical and mental health journals since its inception, including North Carolina Medical Journal, Advances in School Mental Health Promotion and The Community Psychologist. A description of some of the ASC Center services will soon appear in The Handbook of Culturally Responsive School Mental Health: Advancing Research, Training, Practice and Policy, currently in press.

“Part of Appalachian’s mission is to provide professional development to build the capacity of the university to help the community,” said Michael. “The ASC Center represents that exactly. We get to train our students for their profession, but we also get to serve the community and give back. It’s gratifying to see our graduates learn in a real setting and to work across disciplines. We are helping educators do their job. We are also helping students to attend school, make better grades and receive fewer behavioral referrals,” he said.

Cameron Massey was the ASC Center’s intern during the 2009-10 school year. He received an M.A. in clinical health psychology from Appalachian in 2010. He is now employed by New River Behavioral Healthcare. Michael said Massey is the perfect example of how students receive solid preparation at Appalachian and then use their training and talent to help the local community.

“The ASC Center is a wonderful graduate training program,” said Massey. “We were allowed the opportunity to work as a team to provide comprehensive support to students at the high school. The program also allows graduate students from around the country and the world a chance to be immersed in the local culture and bring them to where the local residents are, which helps us to help them better.”

Massey said the passion that Michael has for the ASC Center is shared by the students involved. He continues to do research and attend conferences that stem from the ASC Center program.

Other goals of the ASC Center include interdisciplinary collaboration, evidence-based practice, pre-professional development and capacity building and coordination across systems of care.

The first clinician began serving at the high school near the end of the 2006-07 school year. The program has expanded to include 12 people in the ASC Center, ranging from undergraduate research assistants to practicum students to a full-time master’s level clinical social worker.

The program has received positive feedback from parents and students alike. The ASC Center serves 75-150 students annually. Services include consultation/education with faculty and administration regarding mental health issues, individual psychotherapy, family therapy, crisis intervention, assessment and diagnosis and group therapy.

“The most common reason students say they like the ASC Center,” Michael said, “is that people listened and they felt heard. Our graduate students are closer in age to the high school students and can relate better, but they also provide effective help under the supervision of school professionals and licensed faculty members.”