Morgridge College of Education’s Counseling Psychology Clinic is excited to roll out Lyssn, a new partnership that brings counseling and assessment to the digital age. Developed through years of scientific research and repetitive studies, Lyssn is a technology company focused on improving the quality of mental health and addiction therapy. When Morgridge Professor of Counseling Psychology, Dr. Jesse Owen, published on a different project with one of the owners of Lyssn, he heard about the product and knew he needed to integrate it into the Morgridge Clinic.

“Lyssn is the only group, [that I know of], that is integrating natural language processing into actual theoretical and empirically supported principles to support learning,” Owen said.

Lyssn’s HIPPA-compliant, double encrypted system allows counselors to record, store, and review therapy sessions; provides session transcripts via automatic speech recognition, designed and tuned for psychotherapy; and the artificial intelligence takes the spoken language of therapy and evaluates it relative to specific fidelity benchmarks. Put simply, Lyssn’s technology allows the therapist more time to focus on the client and revisit sessions to better serve their needs.

The Lyssn prediction models automatically estimate the therapist’s empathy, collaboration, reflections, and questions, to provide detailed performance-based feedback on Motivational Interviewing (MI) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT, in development). Lyssn will allow our students to receive feedback on their sessions like never before.

Owen worked with the Morgridge technology team to adapt the product to the existing clinic and then turned the reins over to Drs. Andi Pusavat and Jessica Reinhardt to implement in their day to day clinic activities.

According to Pusavat, Lyssn’s ability to read empathy is a major factor in allowing her team to better assess their sessions and better teach their students. The technology allows them to record and assess sessions with extreme accuracy and speed. Reinhardt is equally excited to use the technology and sees a future where remote counseling sessions can be made available to individuals and groups in rural areas, where access to mental health professionals is difficult.

”This can be the future,” Reinhardt added.

The University of Denver (DU) Morgridge College of Education (MCE) Center for Rural School Health & Education (CRSHE) will be expanding its work in rural communities with the addition of a new grant-funded initiative through the Colorado Department of Education’s (CDE) Plan into Action Grants. CRSHE’s goal with this initiative is to create a robust rural school mental health workforce in order to meet the mental health needs of rural students and provide classroom teachers with the support they need by increasing the number of mental health professionals placed in rural schools. MCE will work with state and community partners in southeast Colorado to build and sustain a rural school mental health workforce that can alleviate some of the pressures classroom teachers face in trying to meet those students’ emotional needs. The University anticipates that teacher retention rates will increase as a result of teachers feeling more supported in the classroom.

CRSHE director, Dr. Elaine Belansky, has been working in rural schools in Colorado for 19 years. While new to DU, Belansky is not new to challenges faced by rural communities.

“I have been working with rural school districts since 1999 and what’s striking to me is that in the past few years, every rural school district our team works with has named student mental health as a top concern,” Belansky said. “We don’t have enough school mental health professionals to meet the needs of rural students and classroom teachers are under a lot of pressure to teach content and meet the mental health needs of their kids. This grant gives us an opportunity to address these challenges.”

The $123,950 grant will allow Belansky and her team to partner with the Colorado Rural Education Collaborative and two Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) to create strategies aimed at increasing the school mental health workforce across underserved areas of the state. The grant consists of three components:

  • Conduct an immersion in Southeast Colorado for school mental health graduate students
  • Develop a statewide Professional Learning Community for school mental health professionals via ECHO DU
  • Create a hiring forecast that includes cost-effective, innovative strategies to meet rural school mental health workforce demands

The long-term goals and impact of the grant are to see an increase in the rural school mental health workforce, increased teacher retention rates, and increased mental health of rural students. The 12 month grant period begins fall 2018.

Netflix has officially announced a release date for its highly controversial “13 Reasons Why” – May 18 the show will hit Netflix queues and be available to watch. We want to take this opportunity to share resources if you or anyone you know is contemplating suicide. These resources are recommended by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) as well as our own Counseling Psychology Department and Child, Family, and School Psychology Department.

Additionally, NASP has crafted a statement and guidance for the upcoming season. Its general recommendations include:

  • Provide the guidance developed by NASP for 13 Reasons Why, Season 1 to parents and educators.
  • Encourage parents to watch the series with their child; children and youth who view this series may need supportive adults to help process it. Help students articulate their perceptions when viewing controversial content. The difficult issues portrayed do occur in schools and communities, and it is important for adults to listen, take adolescents’ concerns seriously, and be willing to offer to help.
  • Caution against binge watching, as doing so with intense content, particularly in isolation, can be associated with increased mental health concerns.
  • Reinforce that school-employed mental health professionals such as school counselors, school psychologists, and school social workers are available to help.
  • Make sure parents, teachers, and students are aware of suicide risk warning signsAlways take warning signs seriously, and never promise to keep them secret. Establish a confidential reporting mechanism for students.
  • Reinforcing resiliency and protective factors can lessen the potential of risk factors that lead to suicidal ideation and behaviors. Once a child or adolescent is considered at risk, schools, families, and friends should work to build these factors in and around the youth.

If you are an educator and want more information about our alumna-designed suicide risk assessment app, click here.

MCE’s  Counseling Psychology (CP) department has been identified as one of the top 20 PhD programs in the nation by Best Counseling Degrees. The ranking was created by compiling programs offering a doctoral degree in counseling psychology from the American Psychological Association (APA), along with the Examination for Professional Practice of Psychology (EPPP) pass rate gathered from the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB).

“We have always attracted people who strive to live lives of purpose, and to pursue careers of distinction,” says Jesse Owen, CP Department Chair. “I think this recognition speaks to the quality of these students, the customization of the program, as well as the diversity of our faculty research.”

Diverse faculty research is a hallmark of the CP department that affords students unique and enriching collaborative opportunities. Current faculty research areas include:

  • Multicultural counseling
  • HIV counseling
  • Psychotherapy research
  • Romantic relationships
  • Health psychology and health disparities
  • Group dynamics
  • Supervision and training
  • Vocational psychology and career development
  • Cancer survivorship

“I think one of our program’s greatest strengths is the collaborative atmosphere. We have been told from the beginning that each individual student will create their own path towards their career goals, and no two paths look exactly the same,” says CP PhD student Ellen Joseph. “Therefore, we as students are here to support each other and build relationships that we can maintain throughout our careers.”

Best Counseling Degrees is the No. 1 online resource for exploring and choosing from the nation’s best counseling degree programs that will develop the knowledge and skills needed to further a career in this helping profession. The site’s mission is to share expert information about the top counseling degrees to help people achieve their professional goals.

As part of KUSA Channel 9 Denver’s Recovery Week special on addictions, news anchor TaRhonda Thomas interviewed Counseling Psychology (CP) Addictions Specialization director, Mike Faragher. Faragher is a Level II National Gambling Counselor, as a Board Approved Clinical Consultant by the International Gambling Counselor Certification Board, and as Level III Senior Addiction Counselor by Colorado Office of Behavioral Health. Dr. Andi Pusavat, Counseling Service Clinic Director and Clinical Assistant Professor addressed addiction causes in a live interview during the broadcast. Faragher and Pusavat were joined by Amy Hudson, CP PhD student, Wesley Pruitt, ’15 CP MA grad, and Tammy Pope, MS, NCGC1 from Choice Counseling & Recovery. All five manned the live phone lines answering questions on a wide range of addiction issues and connecting callers with local resources and support groups, including MCE’s Counseling and Educational Services Clinic.

You can find more photos from the interview in our Flickr album.

Khara Croswaite Brindle graduated  from Morgridge College of Education Counseling Psychology master’s program in 2012 with a passion for helping and a keen ear for listening – and understanding – others. Today, she is a private practice licensed professional therapist with a focus on clients using Medicaid. At nights and on the weekends, she runs her own business developing an app to assess and prevent suicide.

“I saw a need for this assessment tool,” she said, as if this were the simplest thing in the world. “I want people who want to go ‘there’ to be able to have that tough conversation and be able to access resources to get help.”

By people who want to go “there,” she means teachers, coaches, case managers, anyone who may be in a professional position to see another person struggling but not be a clinical mental health professional. Her goal is to make the conversation about suicide easier to approach, easier to have, and easier to know what to do. Her app works like this. Said person (let’s call them the professional) sees another person struggling. Maybe they have every day contact, maybe they see them once a week, but they believe this person is having a hard time. They decide to broach THE question, the tough question, the one they know the answer to but maybe do not know what to do with the response.

“Do you want to kill yourself?”

“Are you suicidal?”

“Do you have thoughts of harming yourself?”

They bring up the app. The app is loaded with the suicide risk assessment, and the professional begins the heart-to-heart. Together, they talk, the professional listens, and they have the conversation. Once complete the app populates next steps, organizations to contact for additional help, where to find online and face-to-face support, and who to call for emergency assistance. It also goes one step further and populates resources based on factors such as age and geographical location. Currently its resources are for the entire state of Colorado.

Croswaite Brindle stresses that this app is not meant to be a total assessment. This is also not a one and done conversation. This app is meant to help on the spot and give the professional and the person hurting a beginning roadmap to intervention and recovery.

In her practice, Croswaite Brindle regularly works with at-risk populations. This is a conscious decision to provide the best possible care to patients with Medicaid. She works with teenagers, single parents, individuals struggling with gender identity, veterans; she works with regular, everyday people who are struggling and each and every day her goal is to provide them with the best possible care.

“I think my cohort at Morgridge helped to frame my career now,” she said. “My class graduated and we were so excited to get out and be agents of change.”

An agent of change she is. Already her app is in use and under development. She has started to work with the Mental Health Center of Denver and run workshops with other professionals to continue to build resources and continue to assess risk factors. She considers Colorado to be her pilot state, but her long-term goal is to have the application be used nationwide and endorsed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Through it all, she stays in contact with her professors at Morgridge. Now colleagues in the field, she finds their support and encouragement invaluable.

“My connections are wonderful to have,” she said. “It’s been great to continue to collaborate and exciting for me to see the cohorts grow. I definitely am a proud Morgridge alum, and someday I hope to be back in some capacity.”

Back as in, getting a PhD, teaching the next generation of mental health professionals?

“I can see all of that,” she smiles. “Someday.”

More information about the app can be found at Cacs-co.com.

Dr. Patton O. Garriott joined the Morgridge College of Education as an Assistant Professor in Counseling Psychology in 2012 after receiving his Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Missouri and completing his pre-doctoral internship at the University of Texas at Austin Counseling and Mental Health Center. Dr. Garriott’s work focuses on those who are underserved, underrepresented, and excluded in higher education and specific career domains. He is currently a Co-Investigator on a $1,491,909 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant that will examine the persistence of women and Latinas/os in engineering. Dr. Garriott teaches several courses in the Master’s and Doctoral program in Counseling Psychology, including Multicultural Counseling, Ethics and Research seminars. He is a strong believer in mentorship and providing students with opportunities to “learn by doing.”

As the Director of the Career and Social Attitudes Lab, Dr. Garriott and his research team are working on several projects. His most recent work has focused on first-generation college students’ academic and career development as well as students of color in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Within the former domain, Dr. Garriott is examining predictors of first- and non-first-generation college students’ academic and life satisfaction. Given recent increases in first-generation college students’ attendance at institutions of higher education and their disproportionate non-persistence rates, this research could have implications for ensuring the success of this underserved student group. Dr. Garriott’s research in the area of STEM careers has focused on prospective first-generation college students as well as Mexican American high school and college students. The goal of this line of research is to help end the disproportionate overrepresentation of whites and males in growing occupational sectors that offer opportunities for social mobility. In addition to uncovering pathways to success for underrepresented groups, Dr. Garriott also believes in the necessity of interrogating privilege to foster social change. His research in this area has examined the efficacy of various approaches to multicultural education among white college students and explanatory mechanisms by which they work (e.g., guilt). Dr. Garriott and members of his research lab have been successful publishing their research in peer-reviewed journals as well as delivering presentations at national conferences.

In the future, Dr. Garriott plans to investigate help seeking behaviors among historically underrepresented students in higher education as well as socioeconomically distressed individuals. He continues to have an active research lab of around 10-15 Master’s and Doctoral students and welcomes student interest in research. Dr. Garriott is also working in collaboration with faculty from Higher Education and Sociology as well as the DU Center for Multicultural Excellence to qualitatively examine student perceptions of campus climate at DU. He hopes this work can have an impact at the macro level and inform institutional practices around inclusion and equity.


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