New VCU program focuses on expanding mental health professionals’ knowledge to address community needs

Online continuing education course offerings will develop learners’ understanding of topics to develop a community of learning.

A person wearing headphones uses a laptop computer.
The VCU Counseling and Behavioral Health Continuing Education Program will give health care professionals additional tools to address the needs of the community. (Getty Images)

Virginia Commonwealth University is introducing a new continuing education program to give health care professionals with a focus on mental health even more tools to address the needs of the community.

The VCU Counseling and Behavioral Health Continuing Education Program features nine modules on counseling and behavioral health topics such as the opioid epidemic, trauma basics and bias and stigma related to addiction. The noncredit program is available to mental health professionals and community members in an online format to allow individuals to learn at their own pace.  

The program provides continuing education hours for qualified mental health professionals, certified substance abuse counselors, residents in counseling, licensed professional counselors and licensed substance abuse treatment practitioners.

According to an August 2020 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, increasing intervention and prevention efforts to address mental health conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic is a key for improving public health.

The VCU Office of Continuing and Professional Education is offering the program in partnership with the Department of Rehabilitation Counseling in the VCU College of Health Professions

Denise Hall, a clinical coordinator in the Department of Rehabilitation Counseling who helped create many of the modules, said they align with VCU’s mission and goal of engaging and providing information to communities about serious issues. 

“If we have better information, if we better understand our environment, it allows us to be part of the solution,” Hall said.

The program team consists of VCU faculty and alumni from the Department of Rehabilitation Counseling, which is ranked No. 4 nationally among master’s level rehabilitation and mental health counseling training programs by U.S. News & World Report, as well as other dedicated rehabilitation, mental health and addiction professionals from the greater Richmond community.

Ari Laoch, a mental health and substance abuse counselor at the Health Brigade free clinic in Richmond, created two modules, Transgender 101 and Overview of LGBTQIA+, that center on understanding the language and culture of the LGBTQIA+ community, and how that relates to helping members of that community deal with substance use disorders.

“Treatment doesn’t work without correct language,” said Laoch, a 2017 graduate of the VCU Master’s in Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling program. “When we don’t know, we don’t change. Hopefully, people will follow their code of ethics and try to change.” 

Hall hopes that a community of learning can form from the VCU Counseling and Behavioral Health Continuing Education Program.

“Right now we’re setting the foundation, and we’re going to continue to build around the needs of the people taking the modules,” Hall said. “The people who take the modules will become a stakeholder for what we build in the future.” 

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