Neighbors in need

Health and Behavior

by Jan Gillis ('07)

Photo of JMU professors Tim Schulte and Anne Stewart

Clinical mental health faculty and students provide counseling services in Page County

By Jim Heffernan ('96)

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At a time when integrating behavioral health services with primary care in rural settings is gaining momentum, JMU serves as a model. For more than a decade, the university’s graduate psychology faculty and students have been providing counseling services in Page County in consultation with local physicians.

‘The thinking was that we would open the doors, work with primary care, and see if JMU could play a role in helping deliver some of these services.’

Tim Schulte, a licensed clinical psychologist and coordinator of Counseling and Psychological Services at JMU, began bringing his advanced graduate psychology students to Page in 2004 in response to a community health needs assessment as well as some changes in the local mental health services landscape. “The thinking was that we would open the doors, work with primary care, and see if JMU could play a role in helping deliver some of these services,” he says.

Since then the initiative has grown, thanks to a steady building of relationships with primary-care physicians, Valley Health-Page Memorial Hospital and community leaders. JMU faculty and students now offer mental health services two days a week at The Health Place, a community health center in Stanley, and at Page Healthcare Associates, a Valley Health physician practice in Luray. More than 200 clients received services last year.

Too often mental health in rural areas falls to primary care. “While we [as physicians] receive some training during residency in the area of mental health, it’s certainly not to the extent that some patients require,” says Dr. David Switzer, a founding partner in the primary care-behavioral health initiative in Page. “As much as I enjoy the patient interaction, our time with them is very limited. For those folks who truly have a counseling or therapy need, that’s not something we can provide.”

JMU has stepped in to meet that need, which allows for coordination of patient care and helps rural doctors like Switzer be more precise in their diagnoses. “That is so helpful when you’re floating out here on your own,” he says. “You want to make sure you’re doing the right thing for your patients and not doing harm.”

In addition to meeting a community need, the initiative, which receives support from JMU’s Institute for Innovation in Health and Human Services, offers a training ground for future mental health providers.

One of the future goals for the initiative involves working with Valley Health to create some shared positions for student internships and residencies, and expanding services into neighboring Shenandoah County.

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Published: Sunday, March 15, 2015

Last Updated: Wednesday, November 1, 2023

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