Elderly, lower income and rural individuals frequently lack easy access to mental health services where they live, but technological advances and the burgeoning field of telemental health hold out the promise of bringing these services to them.
Telemental health provides its own set of challenges for mental health professionals. But there are currently few opportunities for these professionals to obtain relevant training in how to address those challenges, as well as applied training in telemental health best practices.
A new online graduate certificate program from Purdue University represents a leap forward in addressing that training deficit, as well as enabling professionals in the field to enhance their careers or practices.
“This program doesn’t really exist anywhere else,” said Kelly LeMaire, assistant director of the Purdue Psychology Treatment and Research Clinics and a clinical assistant professor and licensed psychologist.
The new Telemental Health Counseling Graduate Certificate, a collaboration between Purdue’s College of Education and College of Health and Human Sciences through Purdue Online, also stands out for its focus on serving diverse populations, including those who traditionally don’t have good access to mental health services.
“We have a whole class that’s entirely focused on that area,” said Rachel Ploskonka, director of the Purdue Counseling and Guidance Center, a clinical faculty member for Purdue’s counseling psychology doctoral program and also a licensed psychologist. “We’re definitely more comprehensive.”
“If not done well, we are seeing that telehealth offerings can actually amplify disparities,” said Bridgette Kelleher, associate professor of psychological sciences. “It’s really important that we are building telehealth services in a way that addresses the specific needs of diverse communities, particularly those with lower technology literacy, historic experiences of discrimination, or challenges related to access.”
To complete the Telemental Health Counseling Graduate Certificate, students will take four online courses encompassing 12 credits:
* Foundational Techniques for Telemental Health Providers.
* Addressing Demographic Health Disparities in Telehealth.
* Introduction to Telemental Health Assessment and Intervention.
* Technology, Law, and Ethics for Telemental Health Providers.
* More information on the courses is available here, under Courses.
Students should graduate with knowledge and skills needed to practice telemental health effectively and ethically, said LeMaire, who with Ploskonka and Kelleher led development of the program. The courses are newly developed by faculty experts in psychology, counseling, telehealth and clinical practice.
Course development support is provided by Purdue’s expert online course designers, who integrate best practices in online learning to ensure a seamless, high-quality online learning environment.
The courses cover foundational clinical skills and such topics as technological aspects of telemental health, including data security, confidentiality and risk management; application of theory; standards of care; ethical and legal issues; as well as documentation, informed consent, interjurisdictional practice, and testing and assessment.
The curriculum is based on the latest research and it includes skills-applying activities in addition to lectures and related materials. The courses are asynchronous, and they don’t have to be taken in any particular order, making the program flexible for working professionals and others who might be interested.
Among other things, the material covers techniques for overcoming challenges posed by telemental health, which can range from dropped internet connections to the head-and-shoulders view offered by popular teleconferencing tools, limiting the ability to read body language.
The online program is for licensed and unlicensed professionals in counseling, psychology, social work and therapy positions as well as master’s and doctoral students who might want to add a telemental health credential to their degree.
Telemental health isn’t new – phone crisis hotlines have been around for decades. But technological advancements have allowed it to be taken to a new level and it was a growing trend even before COVID-19 drove myriad activities online. For one thing, it can provide quick and meaningful access to mental health services, which can be in short supply for many people offline.
“Yes, in-person mental health service is going to come back,” Ploskonka said. “But telehealth is here to stay.”
For more information on Purdue’s online Telemental Health Counseling Graduate Certificate, visit the program website.