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Appalachian receives federal grant to increase marriage and family therapists in rural areas

BOONE—The marriage and family therapy program (MFT) at Appalachian State University has received a Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training for Professionals and Paraprofessionals grant award from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

The goal of the grant is to provide behavioral services to children and youth living in rural Appalachian communities and expand the number of licensed marriage and family therapists working in these underserved areas.

The university has received $170,321 for the first year of the renewable three-year grant 100 percent fully funded by federal funds, which will provide a $10,000 stipend to 11 graduate students in the MFT program based in the Reich College of Education’s Department of Human Development and Psychological Counseling. Students receiving the grant are in their second year of the graduate program and involved in an internship – also called experiential training – in behavioral health settings.

“The purpose of the program is to encourage graduate students to make a commitment to careers with this target population of children, adolescents and young adults in transition after their training,” said Professor Karen Caldwell, who will direct the grant.

Appalachian is one of five UNC system schools to receive HRSA funding to strengthen the state’s behavioral health care workforce. The others are UNC Chapel Hill, UNC Greensboro, N.C. State University and Western Carolina University.

HRSA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary Federal agency for improving access to health care by strengthening the health care workforce, building healthy communities and achieving health equity. HRSA’s programs provide health care to people who are geographically isolated and economically or medically vulnerable.

The MFT students receiving the grant will intern with agency partners that provide behavioral health services to 5 to 25 year olds in Ashe, Avery, Caldwell, Mitchell or Watauga counties, or in Johnson County, Tenn.

“Marriage and family therapy interns end up working with all ages of people, because their focus is on close relationships,” Caldwell said. “When you are dealing with the family you have a range of ages.”

She said typical issues addressed by the interns include those related to a family falling apart, such as out-of-home placement of children and youth; inappropriate emotional responses such as acting out, hurting themselves or others; depression or anxiety and behavioral problems such as substance abuse that make it difficult for others to live with an adolescent or young adult.

A portion of the funding will be used to improve the experiential training students receive and their ability to intern in integrated care settings, Caldwell said. Integrated care settings are those where mental health and behavioral health professionals work in conjunction with professionals addressing physical health.

Integrated care is a concept growing across the state and is becoming a point of emphasis in the MFT curriculum, Caldwell said.

“Interns are only placed with agencies that have a licensed mental health professional on site,” she said. “I’ll be working to expand the MFT program’s internship sites to locations that have adopted the integrated care model so that our interns can practice there and understand the nuances of practicing in an integrated health setting. I think funding for integrated care is only going to grow. It’s a more efficient way of providing mental health care. So this will help prepare our students for positions in an area that is growing.”