Behavioral Health Support Specialist (BHSS)

Project Type(s):

This project has three aims (1) develop state of the art curriculum to prepare bachelor level providers to offer low intensity, evidenced based interventions for mild to moderate depression and anxiety; (2) Engage industry partners in practicum preparation to develop this workforce partner; (3) Collaborate with Washington state policy makers to create adequate mechanisms of reimbursement for services.

For information, please contact:
Bill O’Connell, Ed.D.
Director, Clinical Training Program

Project Period:
July 1, 2021 June 30, 2026

Funding Type(s):
Foundation, Philanthropy

Ballmer Group

Geographic Area(s):

Practice Type(s):
Primary Care

Patient Population(s):

Targeted Condition(s):
Anxiety, Depression

Governor Inslee Signs SSB 5189 to Establish BHSS in Washington

The UW Behavioral Health Support Specialist (BHSS) Clinical Training Program is excited to announce that Governor Inslee has signed SSB 5189 into law to establish the role of behavioral health support specialist (BHSS) in Washington. We are grateful to Senators Trudeau, Wagoner, Conway, Dhingra and Wilson for sponsoring this bill as well as Rep. Callan and colleagues who supported companion bill 1348 in the House. SSB 5189 passed both legislative chambers with unanimous support. We also want to acknowledge the generosity of Ballmer Group’s gift to the University of Washington to support development of competencies and curriculum for the BHSS role. SSB 5189 directs the Department of Health to issue the BHSS credential starting January 1, 2025.

Read more about this major milestone and the impact in our program updates summary.

BHSS Clinical Training Program

This Clinical Training Program prepares students to be successful as Behavioral Health Support Specialists (BHSS). Under supervision, a BHSS provides brief, culturally responsive, evidence-based interventions for behavioral health conditions and applies measurement-based care strategies to track patient progress and facilitates referrals to specialty services within the community. Review this sample job description for details.

Program curriculum may be integrated into an existing bachelor’s degree program or as a standalone continuing education certificate. Students will participate in classroom learning and a practicum/field placement. Our project team is partnering with four-year degree programs and clinical practice sites to deliver the curriculum, offering support, consultation, and additional resources to do so.

Competencies and Learning Objectives

Using a backward design approach, our project team has developed meta-competencies, competencies and learning objectives as foundations for the program curriculum. In Summer 2022, we received feedback from the community on such materials via focus groups. Feedback from these focus group sessions have been incorporated into the latest iteration.

Review this overview of the program curriculum for details.

2022 Community Partner Focus Groups

The BHSS project team facilitated four virtual focus group sessions in August and September 2022 to gather feedback from the community about the developing program curriculum. The following report summarizes feedback from the focus groups with comments from the BHSS project team.

Download the summary report here.

The Behavioral Health Support Specialist role is one solution of many to increase access to behavioral health services and expand the behavioral health workforce in Washington state.

This work was inspired by the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) Program in England. The IAPT program demonstrated improved patient outcomes and reduced cost of care with implementation of a practitioner like the BHSS. IAPT increased the volume of the workforce, especially in rural and under-resourced areas, trained the workforce to use evidence-based strategies and significantly reduced wait lists. Further, the IAPT program has reported a significant increase in racial and ethnic diversity among persons who completed the Psychological Well-Being Practitioner (PWP) training since 2008. A PWP in England is similar to a BHSS in Washington State.


Download a bibliography of related work here.

In The News

To strengthen Washington’s mental health workforce, UW wants to train undergrads as first-line providers – Seattle Times, November 2021

The BHSS project receives funding from the Ballmer Group to explore, design, develop, and implement curriculum for a BHSS in Washington. The project team has no financial conflicts of interest.

  • Anna Ratzliff, MD, PhD, Professor, Lead Administrator
  • Bill O’Connell, EdD, Associate Professor, Program Director and Subject Matter Expert
  • Juliann Salisbury, MSW, Program Manager and Subject Matter Expert
  • Alan Gojdics, MEd, Associate Director for Education
  • Melissa Farnum, MA, Senior Instructional Designer
  • Sara Ochoa, MEd, Instructional Designer
  • Annie McGuire, MS, MHA, Clinician Trainer, Subject Matter Expert
  • Brenna Renn, PhD, Affiliate Faculty, Subject Matter Expert
  • Patricia A. Areán, PhD, Professor, Subject Matter Expert
  • Patrick Raue, PhD, Professor, Subject Matter Expert

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Contact Us

If you would like to hear more about this work or schedule a meeting with our Program Director, contact us at:

Project Flyer

Download this project flyer about the BHSS Clinical Training Program.