On April 15, 2011, Appalachian State University hosted the Collaborative Conference on Rural Mental Health Training. The purpose of the conference was to bring together professionals from rural-focused training graduate training programs, predoctoral internship programs, and practitioners in a diverse array of community settings to discuss strategies for preparing mental health service providers for work in rural areas. The morning session featured a roundtable discussion of general issues in training rural mental health providers, including coursework and curriculum design, practicum/internship training strategies, and supporting students over the full course of their training careers. Faculty from graduate training programs at East Tennessee State University (Drs. Cantrell, Dalton, and Dixon), Radford University (Drs. Leake and Riding-Malon), and Marshall University (Dr. Footo-Linz), as well as predoctoral internship training programs at the Appalachian State University Counseling and Psychological Services Center (Dr. Clark) and the James H. Quillen VA Medical Center (Dr. Buchanan), provided descriptions of their programs with an emphasis on features designed to prepare students for rural work. In the ensuing discussion, several relevant themes emerged regarding the design of rural training programs and the needs of future providers:
- Rural-focused training programs should consider the diversity of environments in which mental health workers are employed in rural areas.
- Experience on multidisciplinary teams is imperative for trainees to succeed in today's practice environment
- Skills in community-based research (e.g., needs assessment and program development, implementation, and evaluation) are highly valuable for rural practice.
- Establishing and sustaining quality rural training sites and providing supervision at these remote sites remains a challenge for training programs.
The afternoon focused on the importance of research training for rural providers, and featured talks from four leaders in rural mental health research and policy. Dr. Scotty Hargrove (Appalachian State University) discussed the difficulties faced in attempting to define rurality for research purposes, understanding the context of rurality beyond the geographic considerations, and the need to prepare rural practitioners who understand not only these contexts, but their personal and professional roles in rural communities.
Dr. Michael Blank (University of Pennsylvania) provided an overview of the complex nature of rural mental health service delivery systems and the aspects of rural environments that can influence and impede the effective delivery of mental health services. He further outlined the priorities of major funding mechanisms and how these relate to the rural research initiatives.
Dr. Michael Enright (private practice; University of Wyoming) described his experiences over 30 years of private practice in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He emphasized on the development and evolution of his practice over time, noting that research repeatedly informed his clinical decision-making and helped him to shape and grow the services he offered over the years.
Dr. Julie Owens (Ohio University) discussed her experiences developing and sustaining academic-community partnerships to promote research and empirically-supported treatment dissemination in rural schools in southeastern Ohio. She focused on the benefits and challenges of creating sustained community partnerships and balancing the demands of the academic institution with the desires of the community partners.
The conference concluded with a roundtable discussion of issues pertinent to rural mental health research, including the necessity and conceptual importance of rural-focused research, the generalizability of rural research results, the existence of a definable rural culture, and addressing the training needs of students interested in developing a rural research program.
Interest in a continuing forum for rural collaborative training practices was expressed by several participants. The Department of Psychology at Appalachian State is open to continuing the dialogue about rural training and invites initiatives from other training programs, academic departments, internship training sites, and individual psychologists. Ideas should be sent to JP Jameson at the Department of Psychology, ASU, firstname.lastname@example.org.