Growing the Mental and Behavioral Health Workforce Through Community Partnerships: New Paid Internships

By: Dr. Peter Allen Lee

Four community agency partners are paving the way to more paid internships for San José State University social work students. Community Solutions, Gardner Health Services, Momentum for Health and Rebekah Children’s Services were successfully funded through a grant from the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) Community Services Division. They will be offering financial support to social work students in our BASW bachelor’s and MSW master’s program in the 2022-2023 academic year for students interning at those agencies.   Given the severe shortage of social workers and other professionals needed in mental and behavioral health services, this DHCS grant focuses on Behavioral Health Workforce Development (BHWD) through the Mentored Internship Program (MIP). This is a significant step regarding compensation for internships given that most social work internships are unpaid.

BASW and MSW students, as well as other Spartans at San José State University, are remarkable for their talent, abilities, and passion for education. Indeed, as the #1 Transformative College (according to Money Magazine in 2020), SJSU provides students with life-changing opportunities to earn a university degree and shape a successful professional and personal journey. Even more remarkable, many SJSU students are the first in their families to attend university, and must balance caring for family with working part-time or even full-time in addition to going to school.

We are very thankful to these four community agency partners for pursuing these opportunities to support student interns financially. They represent the over 250 dedicated agency partners networking with our School of Social Work who provide internship placements for over 425 social work students in field education locally and across California.

As part of accreditation standards and quality professional preparation, BASW social work students are required to complete 480 hours of internship as a senior major, and MSW students 1,200 hours across two years in internship. The internship is the cornerstone of educational and practical training, but typically without monetary compensation. As education and financial landscapes change, paid internships would help students succeed, especially in cases where students already have a difficult time affording college and managing numerous responsibilities outside of school. Hopefully, grants and partnered opportunities such as these will lead to more paid internships or models to provide resources to enable students to focus on their professional preparation, and relieve the financial pressures so that our students may thrive.

CHHS DEI Profile – Dr. Asha Thomas

Dr. Asha ThomasDr. Asha Thomas – School of Social Work

What is your role in your department/school?

I am the School Coordinator, Undergraduate and Graduate On-Campus advisor at the School of Social Work

What would you identify as one of the most significant actions you have taken to advance the cause for diversity either in the classroom, your community or your profession?

I believe that my strongest and salient contribution to diversity in my profession occurred when I, as a faculty member in a mid-western university, led a group of graduate students to study and work in India. Most of my graduate students participating in the program had not lived or worked in a developing nation.  The primary challenge for the participants was to negotiate cultural differences and barriers. The program also required them to do intense field work in community settings. During the earlier phases of the program, students relied on my help to interpret the complex and unfamiliar Indian culture. The discomfort and vulnerability created by the unfamiliar provided a golden opportunity for the group to reflect on complex issues related to race, LGBTQ rights, economic oppression, political participation etc. Students were able to discuss issues of social justice and marginalization within a comparative framework – India and the US.  I introduced both experiential learning and course-readings on LGBTQ rights, race and housing rights, and the fight for wage equality. Student have provided strong feedback about the inclusiveness of the program and the rich learnings about Indian culture, social structure and politics. In fact, this year I was asked to lead the program again.

How have you integrated topics of DEI into hiring new faculty and/or admitting students?

The School of Social work pays close and careful attention to topics of DEI in our admission process. Prospective applicants are introduced to our Transcultural Perspective during the admission’s informational session. Videos and other material on the TCP are available on the admissions page. Applicants are asked to reflect on various aspects of the TCP in their personal statement.

During the admission review process, the admission committee evaluates the applicants’ responses to the salient aspects of the TCP framework. The TCP emphasizes the importance of culture in social work at all levels of practice; understanding dynamics of power, privilege, and oppression; maintaining an awareness of one’s own cultural perspectives, values, and beliefs; and demonstrating respect in interactions within, among, and between systems. Specifically, the Committee reads for the applicant’s understanding and experiences with diversity and cultural humility in all areas pertaining to social work practice.

Tell us about how you and why you became attentive to DEI topics. What prompted this change in your department/school?  What did the process look like?

This is an interesting question because my response to this might sound cliched. I grew up in India—that sentence right there answers the how and why. The theoretical lens to understand issues of DEI came during my social work training in India (although we never quite used this term—at that time it was oppression and social justice). Our curriculum was strongly focused on Marxism and social justice. The ability to work on the topic during decades long practice with some of the most marginalized communities in India. The work was intense, hard and demanded considerable grit and patience. This led to a doctoral dissertation focused on social movements, the Indian state and tribal rights.

What support did you need to make it happen?  Did you draw on existing resources or examples that were helpful in guiding your change?

I have relied on the support of my colleagues and mentors in this work. Most of my experiences were based on a political rights /community approach to social work. In the US, particularly teaching social work was challenging, and the learning curve was steep. Here the focus is more on individual aspects of identity, and social work tends to focus on what we call micro or mezzo systems. In the School of Social Work, we have strong leadership and commitment to DEI related work.

Tell us one book, one article, one documentary, or once movie you’ve read or watched that you would like to suggest to others that helped shape your thinking about DEI work.

I am not sure if I can call it a DEI book, but a book that shaped my understanding of Civil Rights (and the fight for political inclusion) in the US is “Poor People’s Movements: Why they Succeed and How they Fail” by Piven and Cloward. This book helped me understand the immense potential of community action and organizing to bring about change. It is also a valuable account of the welfare rights movement in the US. Yet, it also cautions the social worker that real change is hard to win and sustain. Clearly, a valuable lesson for everyone that is working in the frontlines of DEI.

School of Social Work Expands MSW Student Opportunities for IPE

By: Ellen Ostergren, Destiny Santana, and Dr. Peter Allen Lee

Interprofessional Practice and Education or IPE is an emergent way of teaching and learning skills that prepare healthcare workers to be effective in teams.  As healthcare systems evolve to deliver care through teams, social workers’ roles and influence have expanded. The School of Social Work is part of this expansion, providing opportunities for Masters of Social Work (MSW) students to develop within an IPE framework and preparing them to work in dynamic health and mental health care teams where social workers contribute essential skills and perspectives among their colleagues who include physicians, nurses, occupational therapists, and physical therapists.

IPE is a unique way of developing the knowledge, skills, and values that health care workers need to problem-solve within an interdisciplinary team setting. According to de Saxe Zerden, IPE is founded on the premise that each team member has key expertise and a vital role in improving clients’ health outcomes. For instance, social workers serve as advocates for care, case managers and brokers of resources, and hands-on interventionists. IPE training programs provide social work students the opportunity to participate alongside peers in other health-related fields to problem-solve scenarios, learn effective communication, and plan care to meet the needs of diverse clients and patients. According to Jones and Phillips, IPE allows team members from other disciplines to understand the role of social workers, and social workers often become leaders in this type of team collaboration.

California Social Work Education CenterOne such IPE program is the San Francisco Bay Area Integrated Behavioral Health (IBH) MSW Stipend Program led by the California Social Work Education Center (CalSWEC) and funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). According to CalSWEC, the program’s main goal is to build capacity and infrastructure for greater integration of behavioral health care and primary care services within communities in need. MSW students are taught specialized training that prepares them for effective behavioral health care services in integrated care settings. Upon graduation, students commit to seeking employment in IBH settings. The IBH program offers students participation in IPE with nursing, medical, and allied health students in the Bay Area.  Currently, our School of Social Work has six students in the IBH Program along with other final-year MSW students from the University of California at Berkeley, CSU East Bay, and San Francisco State University. MSW students earn a $10,000 stipend as they complete field hours, designated classes, and additional IPE educational activities. Among the key components, students engage in an intensive simulation experience provided by Samuel Merritt University and their simulation lab. The students receive hands-on experience collaborating with nursing and medical students in a simulated patient safety scenario, including practical application of TeamSTEPPS  (Team Strategies and Tools to Enhance Performance and Patient Safety), an evidence-based set of teamwork tools developed to address communication and teamwork in health care settings. TeamSTEPPS is used at hospitals and healthcare settings across the county to enhance cooperative processes that impact all areas of care delivery.

It is exhilarating to see our students participate in IPE, gain real-world skills for communication and teamwork, and provide other learner-professionals a chance to collaborate with social workers who are vital members of any healthcare team. While IPE is a newer element in social work education and not yet integrated into most graduate-level coursework, it is aligned with the Council on Social Work Education’s competency-based education model and a natural fit for educators and clinicians alike. Our School of Social Work is excited about the opportunities IPE brings to our students and we are looking forward to even greater expansion of these efforts.

Our Social Justice Journey: School of Social Work Updates and Reflections

By: Dr. Peter Allen Lee

The School of Social Work at San José State University recently marked its 50th anniversary. One original goal of the School was to prepare professional social workers to serve Spanish-speaking communities: marginalized and in particular need. So serious was this intention, that working-fluency in Spanish was required to earn the Masters of Social Work degree at this school. Over the decades, the School has experienced significant transitions: broadening the commitment to marginalized communities. Social work’s instrumental role in social justice remains paramount.

Juneteenth rally participants gather at SJSU’s “Victory Salute” sculpture of Tommie Smith and John Carlos June 19, 2020.
(Photo: Robert C. Bain, university photographer)

Our School is still on its social justice journey. We envision a just and equitable world in which diverse individuals, families, and communities thrive. Where are we in pursuing this vision? Have we done enough to denounce anti-Black racism and support Black Lives Matter? Have we denounced Anti-Asian violence? Has the School updated its curriculum? Are students and faculty engaging in needed discourse to create lasting change?

The murder of George Floyd and killing of other Black/Africans by law enforcement, recent escalation of anti-Asian violence, and the COVID-19 pandemic compounding problems of inequity affecting the well-being of marginalized communities deeply affects us all. Many of us are experiencing personal tragedy. And while the School has not yet published an anti-racism stance, we remain active. This includes the efforts of our dedicated faculty and inspired students who hold the School accountable for action and change.

While considering “where we stand,” the School’s leadership decided first that intentional, regular, and genuine consultation with our Black/African American colleagues is vital. From their advice, the faculty has committed to three goals: (1) to discuss at every faculty meeting Black Lives Matter and the strategy to combat racism; (2) to update our culture and diversity model, the Transcultural Perspective, and clarify of how racism and anti-racism are addressed through concepts such as positionality and power, privilege and oppression; (3) to have all members of the faculty engage

in developing a curriculum that describes cultural tenets, values, norms of their heritage. The goals of this process are to be able to participate in difficult discussions among ourselves and have experiential exercises, to eventually extend these discussions beyond the context of their self-identified ethnic groups, and to be able to model these types of discussions within classes. The School has also reshaped new student orientation, sponsored financially School-wide attendance at anti-racism conferences, and supported student-led initiatives.

Students are advocating for updated curriculum to include overlooked significant contributions by scholars and professionals of color. Our undergraduate and graduate student organizations sponsor or co-sponsor regular events such as our monthly School-wide forum about racism and social justice topics including “India’s Farmers Protest: What’s Happening in India,” “Working with Individuals Who Have Experienced Human Trafficking,” and “Da Real Anti-Racist.”

Our faculty members, students, and staff are at different places on this social justice journey; some are well-equipped and already immersed, and some early in discovery. Many have divergent views. But, we as a School are purposely preparing to have authentic conversations; specifically including conversations about race and systemic racism, and to be more deliberate in this work.  As with most journeys, we encounter milestones, detours, barriers, and even “destination not found” warnings along the way. This is a difficult and messy journey, and yet very worthwhile. No matter where we are, we can always do better as we gain from experiences, mistakes, and the people we meet along the way. The ultimate goal of all these efforts is for the entire School to pursue anti-racism at every level of our interactions: within and beyond our university community, with our students, our colleagues, and within the curriculum. Staying this course is the main call to action and our commitment.

“The trauma of racism is a public health crisis” (Kendi, I., April 6, 2021), and the practice of social work requires that we and our practice are trauma-informed at every level in order to be effective.

Dr. Meekyung Han, Professor, School of Social Work Receives Momentum for Mental Health “Shining Stars Award of Excellence”

In recognition of her diligent work to eliminate the stigma of mental illness and to improve access to effective mental health treatment around the world, Momentum for Mental Health presented Dr. Meekyung Han, professor, School of Social Works, the “Shining Stars Award of Excellence” at the 22nd annual Shining Stars Benefit event, which recognizes “extraordinary people and organizations doing extraordinary things in the name of advancing mental health services and reducing the stigma that prevents so many from seeking recovery services.” The event was held on October 4th, 2019 at the Rotary Summit Center in San Jose.

At this event, Dr. Han also received the City of San Jose Commendation from the mayor of San Jose, Sam Liccardo. and his colleagues on the San Jose City Council, which recognizes and commends Dr. Han’s professional achievements and contributions.

Dr. Meekyung Han’s primary research interests focus on mental health issues, the general wellbeing of Asian Americans, and the enhancement of culturally sensitive practices among ethnic minority populations.  She has established a strong research agenda with which she secured multiple external and internal grants and significantly engaged in interdisciplinary research with faculty, community-based agencies, and international scholars.

When delivering her speech at the podium, Dr. Han emphasized the importance of advancing mental health services and reducing the stigma as a community by stating that “tonight, we are here to reaffirm our commitment to working together to combat stigma and enhance the quality of life of those with mental health conditions…. With this encouragement, I am more determined than ever to continue advocating for stigma reduction; to enhance, advance, disseminate, and transform research addressing social issues that include mental health disparity; and to foster and promote a more diverse, equitable, and just society.”

This award is evidence of Dr. Han’s passion for and commitment to expanding her professional and academic contribution to the behavioral health field through research and collaboration with domestic and international partners.

Congratulations Dr. Han on your fine work in the behavioral health field!