Four University of North Texas professors hope to use federal dollars to provide counseling for bilingual Americans who have experienced trauma.
The project is funded by a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, and it is part of UNT’s Center for Racial and Ethnic Equity in Health and Society, which focuses on redressing inequity and health quality in Texas.
The faces behind the project are principal investigators Dhru Mukherjee, Angie Cartwright, Peggy Cabellos and Chandra Carey. They hope to train 160 students through the program.
Mukherjee, a social work professor, said people are taught to assess trauma through the use of various screening tools.
“I myself have experienced childhood trauma in my life that I later on discovered in therapy with social workers and counselors [who] had been a big benefit to me at a personal level, and that kind of informed me, my practice and my research,” Mukherjee said. “I am committed to work on trauma-informed workforce at different facets of life.”
The most recent U.S. census demonstrated that the Spanish-speaking population in the U.S. is increasing, so this grant aims to help universities aid partnerships with the community to have a higher amount of trained behavioral health workers, Mukherjee said.
Cartwright, a counseling professor, said it is important for community members, especially children, to see counselors who look like them and understand their experiences from a cultural lens.
“As a Black woman, it’s really important that representation is seen in the counseling profession,” Cartwright said. “We want to impact what the behavioral health force looks like. A lot of the students that we support through our grant project with our stipend and scholarships are students from underrepresented communities.”
The grant follows a previous grant that ended this summer that began in summer 2017 to support Cabellos, Cartwright and Carey’s work. The previous study focused on increasing the number of behavioral health providers who are trained to provide interventions in settings that provide both behavioral health and medical services, and the researchers used this data to apply for the next research cycle to incorporate trauma-informed intervention in a culturally responsive manner.
“In both brands, we’re focusing on not only integrated care and behavioral health but also multicultural competency, so really wanting to make sure that we are training professionals in the community and that we’re training our students and providing access to underserved communities as well,” Cartwright said.
Researchers hope students will have eight years of training in this area of specific care for underserved areas by the end of the new grant cycle.
Mukherjee is a licensed clinical social worker and has worked in southern Illinois for roughly seven years to partner with various community-based organizations to create a trauma-informed workforce.
“I feel like every mental health professional, behavioral health professional and [person] working in community mental health serving poor populations should be trauma-informed,” Mukherjee said. “[The] big body of work on that subject is making sure that before we make some kind of pharmaceutical or psychological assessment, we screen for events that are traumatic in people’s lives.”
Ceballos, a counseling professor, specializes in working with Spanish-speaking communities, specifically within school counseling and play therapy for children.
“This whole component of offering culturally responsive training to our students and helping them understand how they can better serve the bilingual community in the area is something that really is within my main interest,” Ceballos said.
The grant has four primary goals: to increase access to behavioral health services in underserved areas, to implement the grant and collect data while serving the community, to prioritize the research element and use what is learned to improve going forward.
“A lot of work is ahead, and whenever we implement this kind of grant, new ideas come in,” Mukherjee said. “We hope that we are looking out for them and there are other opportunities that spun out from this grant.”