Preparing MSW Students to Provide Integrated Behavioral Health Services in Rural Communities: The Importance of Relationships in Knowledge-Building and Practice


  • Carrie W. Rishel West Virginia University
  • Helen P. Hartnett West Virginia University
  • Brandi L. Davis West Virginia University



Behavioral health services, behavioral health training, integrated health, workforce development, rural practice, social work education


The provision of behavioral health care services is dramatically changing. Specific components of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) encourage states to develop integrated models of service delivery that emphasize preventative services. This shift prompts the need for providers who understand the interrelationship among physical and behavioral health and who are prepared to practice in an interprofessional and team-based approach. This article presents preliminary evaluation results from the initial implementation of the Integrated Mental and Behavioral Health Training Program (IMBTP) within an MSW program which emphasizes rural practice. The IMBTP is funded through federal grants aimed at increasing the number of behavioral health providers nationwide. Results suggest that an intentional focus on relationships enhances the knowledge-building and skill development that are inherently emphasized in most training programs. Including opportunities for relationship-building both among trainees and with program faculty, clinical supervisors, and interprofessional colleagues may improve learning outcomes in behavioral health training programs.