A proposed School of Behavioral Health Sciences at UTHealth Houston would create an unprecedented pipeline for health care workers in mental health specialties to provide critical services for Texans.
The unparalleled school would combine behavioral health sciences graduate education with the largest academic behavioral health clinical enterprise in the country.
“This new school will build upon the Texas Legislature’s historic investments in mental health and more than 50 years of excellence in behavioral health sciences at UTHealth Houston,” said Giuseppe N. Colasurdo, MD, UTHealth Houston president and Alkek-Williams Distinguished Chair. “By expanding our capacity for training and services, we will be able to grow the behavioral health workforce for the entire state and provide much-needed mental health care for children and adults.”
The new school would offer degree programs, including master’s and doctoral levels, in addition to new certifications, postdoctoral fellowships, clinical internships, and clinical fellowships.
“This proposed new school is the culmination of extensive research and planning to try to alleviate the dire need for behavioral health care specialists for Texas,” said Jair Soares, MD, PhD, professor and the Pat R. Rutherford, Jr. Chair in Psychiatry in the Louis A. Faillace, MD, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston.
Programs accredited by the American Psychological Association would include the clinical subfields of psychology – clinical psychology, clinical neuropsychology, rehabilitation psychology, and pediatric psychology. The new school would also include degree and certificate programs for psychiatry technicians, community health workers, and licensed chemical dependency counselors.
Academic program development and collaboration with Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth Houston would enhance training and increase the workforce of mental health nurse practitioners. Dual degree programs would include a PhD in behavioral psychology in combination with a Master of Public Health from UTHealth School of Public Health.
“By becoming a school, we would be able to consolidate our resources to provide incomparable education and training to enhance the experience and exposure of our trainees by utilizing our comprehensive inpatient and outpatient clinical settings,” Soares said.
UTHealth Houston provides the clinical training hours for thousands of students through its behavioral health campus that includes the John S. Dunn Behavioral Sciences Center and UTHealth Houston Harris County Psychiatric Center (HCPC), as well as nearly 37 community clinics. A total of 34 schools – state, national, and international – currently send students to UTHealth Houston for additional clinical training and preceptorships. Training programs include medical residencies and fellowships, nursing, psychology, pharmacy, social work, and post-doctoral research.
The Dunn Behavioral Sciences Center, which opened last March with strong legislative support, will include 264 beds when all 11 units are open by the end of 2023, while UTHealth Houston HCPC has 274 beds. Combined, the hospitals make up the largest academic behavioral health complex in the country.
UTHealth Houston, which has the largest number of academic psychiatric faculty members in the state, has integrated behavioral health services into primary care and multispecialty UT Physicians and Harris Health clinics across the city, including medically underserved areas. The university is also a major participant in the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium, including providing telehealth visits for 19 independent school districts for the Texas Child Health Access Through Telemedicine, and 537 enrolled primary and pediatric care providers through the Child Psychiatry Access Network. UTHealth Houston also provides telehealth services to 15 hospitals statewide, including some state hospital sites.
Students in the new school would have access to a diverse patient population for clinical training in child and adolescent psychology; forensic psychiatry; addiction; psychosis; post-traumatic stress; and geriatric psychology. The school would also offer learning opportunities for research on integrated clinical neuroscience and treatment; mood and anxiety disorders; trauma; grief; childhood disorders; biochemical markers; genetics; and treatment-resistant depression.
UTHealth Houston is seeking $10.5 million per year from the Texas Legislature to establish the new school, including curriculum development, recruiting faculty and staff, accreditation processes, and other expenses.