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Telemental Health at the CMU Counseling Program

Dr. Sheri Pickover, a Central Michigan University (CMU) Counseling Department faculty member, talks with the Telehealth Certification Institute about how she implemented a telemental health training component for her counseling practicum students. Since CMU is in a sparsely populated part of Michigan, access to mental health services has been a long-time concern for residents. Dr. Pickover notes how valuable telemental health training has been to transition students to an online mode of counseling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sheri Pickover, PhD, LPC, BC-TMH, is a professor of counselor education at Central Michigan University who has trained school counselors, addiction, and clinical mental health counselors for over 18 years. Dr. Pickover has taught courses in crisis management, trauma, assessment, and psychopathology and now serves as the Program Director of the CMU Counseling Program. Dr. Pickover shared that even before the pandemic took hold, Central Michigan University counseling faculty members took a training program through the Telehealth Certification Institute, the THTC Certificate Program—and began teaching virtual counseling skills to students.

To measure student learning, Dr. Pickover used a “pre-test, post-test, and a [feedback] survey” that provided measurable data to gauge students’ progress. A two-way mirror was another helpful assessment tool at the CMU clinic to determine the effectiveness of students’ online counseling sessions.

According to Dr. Pickover, most students reported that “they felt more comfortable about what to do [when providing telemental health services to clients].” Students also appreciated the convenience factor, feeling that telehealth was “something they were able to do” if they chose to stay as an online counseling practitioner after they graduated.

But Dr. Pickover warned new clinicians that telemental health competencies are more complex than they seem. The common use of smartphone apps and high-tech computers has created a misperception that telemental health skills are the same as those used for same-location sessions. Dr. Pickover encourages professionals, students, and universities to consider using technology in their counseling curriculums and day-to-day mental health practices to meet evolving client demands.

According to Dr. Pickover, the U.S. Department of Labor has estimated a need for “700,000” trained mental health professionals over the next five years. Getting trained in telemental health can give clinicians an edge when applying for jobs in the behavioral health field. But training graduate students in telemental health competencies is more than just a reaction to the pandemic, it is an investment into the future of the profession. Studying current, evidence-based telehealth standards develops online expertise in an emerging counseling modality that, as Dr. Pickover’s example clearly shows, can greatly increase clients’ access to services.

By: Michael Tugendhat

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