Department of Counselor Education Making a Community Impact
In a new community collaboration, graduate students in the Department of Counselor Education are supporting local patients while pursuing their degrees.
Faculty at SUNY Brockport have long sought an opportunity for students to fill a void of available mental health services in western Monroe County.
To help accommodate westside residents who are unable to access such services in Rochester and points east, the College even considered opening its own clinic, according to Dean of the School of Education, Health and Human Services Thomas Hernandez. After years of ideas, an enriching opportunity came to fruition this fall.
The College, Brockport Central School District, and Oak Orchard Health (OOH) have created an integrated health model that will serve the community by looking at the mental health of patients and families holistically.
"It’s a great opportunity to support something we’ve always kind of dreamed about,” said Mental Health Counseling Practicum Coordinator Summer Reiner.
Students in the counselor education master’s program see patients for behavioral health at OOH, including some who were referred by school district professionals.
Meeting the needs of the community
Oak Orchard Health was founded in 1966 and has transformed into an integrated health center with 22 locations, including non-profit Federally Qualified Health Centers in Brockport, Albion, Lyndonville, Hornell, and Warsaw.
The Brockport location has dental, vision, and pediatrics on site, with the recent addition of behavioral health — which is where counselor education students are serving.
“OOH applied for several grants to support the project and, thus far, has been awarded $950,000. The purpose of the relationship is to ensure that families in Brockport, especially the students enrolled in the K-12 environment, have access to mental and behavioral health support,” Reiner explained.
Many district families are already patients at Oak Orchard Health.
“What we’re offering is to be able to provide a practically no-cost service to the community by using our student interns and practicum students, who will be doing the work in the mental health clinic,” Hernandez said.
Six students who specialize in mental health counseling reported to the Brockport location in August and have been working there since. Graduate student Ashli Bifulco, who is studying counselor education with a concentration in mental health counseling, is one of them.
"[At OOH], I've worked alongside a psychologist with a PhD, a licensed social worker, as well as a licensed mental health counselor that have all helped me further develop my counseling skills," said Bifulco. "Getting the opportunity to interact and work with diverse clients, especially children and adolescents, has been fulfilling."
By next semester, the number of students working at the clinic is expected to double.
“We will have students there for about 50 weeks per year,” said Robert Dobmeier, chair of Department of Counselor Education. The department is adding a new course for Spring 2020 in order to prepare students for their experience at OOH.
This clinical experience is expected to give students an advantage in a competitive job market, while challenging them to learn cutting edge integrated health models.
“It’s a very big deal to have this opportunity,” said Dobmeier.
Meeting the needs of the school district
Another nearby opportunity gives graduate students in counselor education an opportunity to put to practice their school counseling specialties. Right next door to the College campus, a new emersion practicum exists in the Brockport Central School District.
Graduate students report to district schools to work alongside school counselors, said Amy Gaesser, the onsite coordinator and supervisor for the EDC-Brockport Central School District Partnership Practicum Program.
This practicum program began in the fall of 2018 at the high school. Students help district staff meet the demand for onsite school counseling. Since its creation, about 20 graduate students have provided more than 1,500 sessions, helping to meet the social, emotional, and academic needs of about 850 district students, Gaesser explained.
She said the district is thankful for the extra support. And for the graduate students, they’re seeing the benefit of professional job training inside a school culture.
"Connecting behavioral health and counseling services to the public school district and college created a perfect storm of opportunity," said Hernandez. "It’s not just about education, it’s about connecting and meeting the needs of the community in a meaningful way."