October 23, 2014

Training grant to assist social work students

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Graduate students in Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s School of Social Work will soon have the opportunity to receive specialized trauma-based behavioral health training through paid fellowships. 

Dhrubodhi Mukherjee, associate professor and undergraduate program director for the School of Social Work, is the recipient of a $1.18 million Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training award. The competitive federal award assists students in studying trauma-focused behavioral health in children, adolescents and transitional youths, people up to the age of 25. 

Researchers are finding significant evidence indicating that mental illnesses often are actually the result of some type of trauma. Outcomes improve by properly diagnosing the cause of the trauma and treating it, Mukherjee said. 

“We are realizing that many times, mental illness is as much of a biological phenomenon as a psychological phenomenon. If we look at trauma as one of the factors, we realize it can often be treated and made manageable through therapeutic tools,” he said. 

The three-year grant, “Trauma-Based Behavioral Health Fellowship: An Interdisciplinary Graduate Training for Social Work Students in Southern Illinois,” is from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration. The grant will provide fellowships for SIU students, giving them extra training provided by professionals in the field and SIU faculty in conjunction with hands-on experience.  

“This project is a great example of a university and community partnership to deliver a product that serves the students and the community and that could increase enrollment,” Mukherjee said.  

The first year of the grant begins in November and will fund 23 graduate student fellowships. Each student will receive a $10,000 fellowship that incorporates 16 sessions of instruction through half-day workshops. Students in their final year of the Master of Social Work degree program are eligible for the one-year fellowship. 

Instruction will come from SIU Carbondale and SIU School of Medicine faculty as well as representatives of several community partners, including: the Center for Rural Health and Social Service Development/Southern Illinois Behavioral Health Consortium at SIU, Egyptian Public Health in Eldorado, Fellowship House in Anna, Centerstone (formerly The H Group) in Marion, Shalom Counseling Services in Johnston City and Union County Counseling in Anna. 

Mukherjee said the workshops will cover a wide variety of topics and complement what students learn from faculty in the classroom and through field experiences. While the social work curriculum already incorporates clinical work, these interns will do their clinical education in placements that relate to the fellowship study. 

“Students will learn how to be a clinician with mental health skill set and clinical social work practices training that takes trauma into account,” Mukherjee said. “They will learn new trauma-informed cognitive therapy and learn how the symptoms are diagnosed as well as cutting edge treatments.”  

The students will have professional mentors throughout the fellowship and at the end will present reports and compile their research and study findings into reports for possible publication, Mukherjee said. 

The program will provide benefits to students and the community. A result will be more professionals in the region trained in diagnosing and treating mental illness that results from trauma, and providing patients with quality, professional care, he said. In addition, current social work professionals will be able to participate in the training sessions for a fee and receive continuing education credits, Mukherjee said. 

The grant is critical for building a competent workforce in the Southern Illinois region, and will boost the quality of education social work graduates receive, according to Elaine Jurkowski, interim director for the School of Social Work. 

“The academic/community partnership also promotes the infusion of ‘Southern Illinois’ back into the university mission,” she said. “We are very excited about this remarkable opportunity, which was very competitive.  There are more than 500 schools of social work and only about 30 of these awards were distributed throughout the country.” 

A total of 27 fellowships will be available during the second year of the grant with 33 offered in the third year. 

“This grant is an excellent recruiting tool to bring students who are interested in a master’s degree in social work to SIU,” Jurkowski said.  “They will receive a subsidy for their education and integrate into their training the opportunity to learn more about children’s mental health issues.” 

A meeting will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 6, at the Dunn-Richmond Economic Development Center for all social work students interested in participating in the fellowship program. 

For more information, contact Mukherjee at dhrubodh@siu.edu or 618/453-5356.