WKU to use $1.92 million grant to strengthen counseling workforce

BOWLING GREEN, Ky.- Western Kentucky University will use a $1.92 million federal grant to improve the health of underserved and vulnerable populations by strengthening the counseling workforce.

The grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration is among $22 million in awards to 56 recipients as part of the Behavioral Health Workforce and Education Training (BHWET) Program for Professionals. WKU will receive $480,000 a year for four years beginning July 1.

“We are now entering an era in which our counseling workforce will serve people managing the unknown impacts of the pandemic. This award is not only an enormous benefit for WKU, the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences and the Department of Counseling and Student Affairs, but to our region at large as we prepare the next generation of counseling professionals.” CEBS Dean Corinne Murphy said. “The grant provides $10,000 stipends for up to 29 interns each year for the next four years, site supervisor stipends, as well as funds for interprofessional training and faculty professional development largely focused on serving the needs of our rural communities. This funding will significantly and positively impact our ability to recruit, retain and support our students as they grow in to counseling professionals.”

The BHWET Program for Professionals aims to increase the supply of behavioral health professionals while also improving distribution of a quality behavioral health workforce and thereby increasing access to behavioral health services. A special focus is placed on the knowledge and understanding of children, adolescents and transitional-aged youth at risk for behavioral health disorders.

Principal Investigator Cheryl Pence, an associate professor of Counseling and Student Affairs, said the grant will help address the increasing demand for counseling services in the region.

“Some of our most pressing community needs include issues around college and career readiness, trauma, abuse and addictions in a rural and partially rural region with a culturally diverse population where more than one quarter of the residents are under the age of 18,” she said. “There is a need to expand the number of trainees who graduate from our counseling programs and serve our region as well as provide quality professional training in evidence-based practices.”

The program addresses three primary goals:

  1. Maintain and expand the relationships with community-based partners to increase the number of qualified counseling internship training sites in high need areas;
  2. Increase the number of qualified graduate counselors interested in serving high need areas to meet the demands of our rural and partially rural diverse communities; and
  3. Expand and promote interprofessional collaborative behavioral health trainings in behavioral health and primary care settings.

Dr. Pence said objectives include increasing diverse student enrollment in the counseling programs to generate a pipeline of trainees, including community partners in an annual internship and job fair, expanding the number of approved sites each year in high need areas, ensuring trainees complete at least 280 direct client hours and 700 total hours during their internship training and expanding the number of students enrolled in a specialty training path offered to enhance knowledge and skills on addictions, school counseling, family counseling and college and career readiness.

“The plan to enhance our interprofessional training program includes maintaining and establishing continuing education provider status for behavioral health credentialing boards, providing at least five onsite, on-line and on-location trainings for professionals in collaboration with our community partners and enhancing our evidence-based trainings into curriculum and co-curriculum offerings for counseling trainees,” she said.

For information, contact Communications and Marketing at (270) 745-4295.