An innovative model of social work

Story Published on Show Me Mizzou August 25, 2022

portrait of two women

Danielle Easter, left, and Kelli Canada. Photo by Sam O’Keefe.

A week after the pandemic shut down nonemergency health clinics throughout the country, Mizzou’s Integrative Behavioral Health Clinic (IBHC) continued serving clients via a pilot program for telehealth it had launched just months before. “We were really lucky we started the telehealth pilot prior to COVID,” says Kelli Canada, associate professor of social work and co-director of the IBHC, which is located at the MU Family Impact Center in central Columbia.

Through the clinic, social work graduate students get real-world experience working with clients while under the direct supervision of licensed clinical social workers. The students, in turn, provide comprehensive mental health care to Missourians who are uninsured or unable to afford care. Since the clinic opened in 2014, about 170 students have served more than 500 clients. Evaluations show that clients experience less anxiety and depression and better quality of life. Thanks to hands-on mentoring from faculty, students are better able to apply what they learn in the classroom to their clinical practice.

With the launch of the telehealth program, not only did clients continue receiving care, but cancellations also decreased. The telehealth option also allowed the social work online students to participate in the clinic. Most of these aspiring social workers live in medically underserved counties with too few licensed professionals providing behavioral health services.

“We can have a direct impact on those communities while students get hands-on experience doing the kind of work that they’ll probably end up doing in their community,” says Danielle Easter, assistant clinical professor of social work and IBHC’s co-director.

Both online and in-person students are gaining experience with telehealth, which has grown 38-fold since the pandemic began and isn’t going away, even if COVID does. “There’s limited opportunity for students to learn how to do telehealth well,” Canada says. “We’ve been able to teach our students best practices in clinical telehealth and ethical use of technology while also building therapeutic rapport.”

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