Ballmer Group funds new program to train Behavioral Health Support Specialists

Department news | May 27, 2021

Washington has a shortage of mental health care specialists with more than half of its counties lacking a single practicing psychiatrist or psychologist. The result is that many people’s mental health conditions go untreated. For those who get care, the majority are treated solely with medication despite a consistent preference for having psychosocial treatments. Individuals from ethnic minority groups, older adults, people with low socioeconomic status and people living in rural areas are at greatest risk of not receiving effective psychosocial treatment.

A $3.7 Million gift from Ballmer Group will help the UW Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences develop a new program that aims to train bachelor-level practitioners as behavioral health support specialists (BHSS) to deliver evidence-based psychosocial treatments in primary care and other medical settings. The goal is to establish a new workforce of bachelor-level mental health providers over the next five years to help increase access to effective mental health care in Washington state. A new provider type with lower entry barriers and educational requirements may help us engage a larger and more diverse workforce in providing effective mental health care and create a robust pipeline for individuals who will go on to get additional training as mental health professionals. The new program will include curriculum development, training, practicum oversight and coordination with educational partners in the state’s four-year colleges. The hope is that by the end of the 5-year project, 50 students will be trained as Behavioral Health Support Specialists every year to help serve the needs of vulnerable individuals and communities across the state.

Anna Ratzliff, MD, PhD, will provide overall project direction and oversight. Patricia Arean, PhD, and Patrick Raue, PhD, will support curriculum development and Michele Roe will provide project support.