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New Mexico State University

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NMSU students provide mental health care for underserved through grant

A psychology grant is helping New Mexico State University students make mental health care more available for the underserved populations in the border area.


The Graduate Psychology Education (GPE) grant is specifically for behavioral health in primary care settings, providing mental health care services to people who wouldn't receive the care otherwise, such as the uninsured.

College of Education counseling psychology doctoral students and students working toward a master's in social work in the College of Health and Social Services participate in a behavioral health practicum funded by the grant. The students team with medical residents and other health care professionals to provide counseling services to individuals who are dealing with multiple issues.

"The idea behind this is that not only are we serving people now, but we are getting more students interested in reaching the underserved," said Eve Adams, associate professor of counseling and educational psychology.

Issues the students may address can include physical health problems, caretaking of others with physical and mental health problems, domestic violence, relationship problems, anxiety, depression, stress and other emotional and psychological concerns.

The program also makes sure to address the issues of the border area by offering culturally-competent care. One-third of the students in the program are bilingual, allowing them to provide counseling in Spanish.

This year, the counseling psychology students are working at the Family Medicine Center and La Clinica De Familia in Las Cruces, and at school-based health centers at Las Cruces High School and Gadsden Middle School. The students in social work have been placed at correctional facilities in the area and the army hospital in El Paso, Texas.

Adams said the grant is changing how health care professionals view the way health care should be delivered.

"We have a history of training students to understand the biological, mental and cultural aspects separately, but the students are being taught to understand how working in interdisciplinary treatment teams and treatment serve patients better," she said.

Health care is based on the biopsychosocial model, which looks at the physical, the sociological and the social and cultural elements to a problem. A team of professionals who each bring their expertise is more effective in treating patients than just one health care provider.

"Patients share very different information with their physician than they do to a behavioral health consultant even though all of the information is relevant to their overall treatment," Adams said.

NMSU is one of only 20 institutions in the country to receive the GPE. Since first receiving the grant in 2004, 78 students have participated in the program and 29 counseling psychology doctoral students have completed the program.

The practicum was featured in an article in the April 2009 issue of the Monitor on Psychology, a magazine published by the American Psychological Association (APA). The APA is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the nation and works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.

Grant recipients must be accredited by the APA. The grant also must address psychologists working in interdisciplinary, medical settings in an underserved area.