IU social work graduate program moves into new arena: telebehavioral health

  • June 11, 2015


INDIANAPOLIS -- The IU School of Social Work’s online graduate program at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis is positioning itself to become a leader in preparing social work students for a new arena: telebehavioral health.

Just as technology has led to an expansion of online social work education programs, so too has it created a new frontier for social workers to deliver clinical behavioral health services from a distance via electronic communications. 

The school was awarded a $15,000 IUPUI Curriculum Enhancement Grant, which it will match, to develop three online courses in social work and telebehavioral health.

“Significant increases in digital network accessibility and affordability are providing the means for expanding telebehavioral mental health and substance abuse services,” said David Wilkerson, principal investigator on the grant and an assistant professor of social work who teaches in the school’s online Master of Social Work program, MSW Direct.  

Social work associate professor David Kondrat and lecturer Takiya Paicely are co-investigators on the grant.

“Indiana University School of Social Work can lead the nation by becoming the first social work program to meet the need for social-work-specific training in telebehavioral health practice,” Wilkerson said.

The school’s contributions to education and training are especially important, because large-scale access to telebehavioral mental health and substance abuse health care cannot emerge without a trained work force, Wilkerson said. 

“Social workers are a majority of the traditional mental health workforce," he said. "At this time, social workers only have access to non-social-work-specific training and certification programs in telebehavioral health services delivery. With the support of the Curriculum Enhancement Grant, we plan to address these training needs.”

Indiana has not yet established licensing requirements for social workers in telebehavioral health services, but Wilkerson sees the three courses as an important first step toward aiding state government decision-making on the training needs for such licensing.

“I don’t think the idea is to replace face-to-face services," he said. “Telebehavioral health does have affordabilities that can in some situations make the treatment more holistic.”

While psychiatrists began offering telebehavioral health services 50 years ago in rural areas, the practice has not really developed much past that, Wilkerson said.

The first course to be offered in September would provide an overview of what social workers need to know to deliver behavioral health interventions that are mediated through technology. The course will also help social workers decide which kinds of clients they can effectively provide services for, and cover legal and ethics issues.

The second course will focus on building online psychosocial and psycho-educational group-based interventions, and how to develop delivery systems that can increase client participation, client retention and improve outcomes.

The third course will focus on designing individual interventions.

David Wilkerson

David Wilkerson

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Rob Schneider