The University of Wyoming’s Mu Nu Tau chapter of Chi Sigma Iota International, the honor society for professional counselors, recently was awarded a statewide regional networking grant from the organization, in partnership with the chapter at the University of Northern Colorado (UNC).
The chapters will work together to develop a series of webinars that will allow counseling practitioners in rural areas to continue their training and education after completing their graduate programs.
This is the second year the UW and UNC chapters have been awarded the grant. The foundations of the partnership were laid last year, when the UNC chapter approached UW, home of the highly regarded Rocky Mountain Center of Play Therapy Studies, to collaborate on a play therapy workshop in Colorado. UW obliged, and several counseling students participated in the event.
The workshop was a success, but many counselors across Wyoming and Colorado who are based in rural areas far from the UNC campus were unable to benefit from training. The distance and cost associated with continuing education can make it challenging for rural mental health professionals to expand the clinical services they provide to their clients.
“In comparison to practitioners in urban areas, rural practitioners experience less funding and resources for professional development. Thus, many practitioners cannot afford to travel to bigger trainings and conferences,” says Alanna E. Pengilly, of Watertown, S.D., a master’s degree student in the community health mental counseling program at UW. “We want to offer an affordable alternative that provides relevant professional development to increase representation and diversity in professional development for practitioners in rural areas.”
To help alleviate the hindrance of distance, the UW and UNC chapters explored options to provide training that would be more accessible to individuals located in rural areas. The team decided webinars would be the best way to maximize its reach and offer training to as many mental health professionals as possible.
“Our state counseling organization conducted a statewide needs assessment about what support mental health professionals in Wyoming need. Overwhelmingly, they requested more web-based training available across the state,” says Amanda DeDiego, assistant professor in the UW College of Education’s School of Counseling, Leadership, Advocacy and Design, and faculty adviser to UW’s Chi Sigma Iota International chapter. “In response to this need, we are partnering with UNC to offer a series of webinars focused on issues relevant to counselors working in rural areas.”
Students in each chapter will work in conjunction with the Wyoming Counseling Association and Colorado Counseling Association to ensure practitioners are able to use the webinar trainings for licensure and National Board for Certified Counselors continuing education. They plan to develop two webinars that focus on relevant topics for rural mental health practitioners, such as trauma, crisis, substance use, clinical supervision and ethics. The UW and UNC chapters will work separately to develop one webinar each.
Continued training is necessary for counselors and other mental health professionals, as the field is ever-evolving. The students hope the webinars will negate these barriers and empower rural mental health professionals to provide critical services to their clients.
“The field of counseling continues to change as new research is being published and more knowledge is learned about humans, especially around diversity and social justice,” says Michelle Saltis, a counselor education and supervision doctoral student at UNC. “It is imperative for counselors to stay up to date about the latest best practices, treatment methods, ethics and overall ways to be inclusive and address diversity and social justice.”
An additional benefit of the webinars is that the participants will gain new connections to a support system of peers who experience similar struggles in their rural practices.
“Counselors in rural communities can feel isolated,” DeDiego says. “I hope that, through these webinars, counselors are able to get critical training that will help better inform their practice with community members, and also hear that they are not alone — and that the professional community values their work and the important role they play in our state.”
The team of students hopes to have the webinars completed and ready to offer to practitioners in late spring. The goal is to be able to offer the trainings for $25 or less to make them accessible to as many mental health professionals as possible.
If you are a rural mental health professional interested in participating in the webinars to gain new skills, contact DeDiego via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.