As the COVID-19 pandemic kicked into high gear, the need to pivot and offer mental health resources in a new way became a stark reality. Not everyone was prepared for the shift to remote or online care options, leaving many providers scrambling to find viable solutions. Thankfully, this experience served as a teachable moment to those who were paying attention including the professionals in charge of the counselor education program at the University of Phoenix.
Current students and graduates of the University of Phoenix were among those left unprepared, largely due to gaps in the curriculum related to telemedicine. Instead of using teletherapy to their advantage, students were expected to meet face-to-face with their clients.
Students learned about the use of teletherapy in limited circumstances, making it seem more optional. Unfortunately, when COVID-19 struck, practitioners and educators realized that telemedicine had become a non-negotiable necessity. Regulation and safety measures prevented face-to-face meetings, but clients still needed access to critical services.
Noticing the discrepancy, University of Phoenix professionals readied themselves to make telemedicine an integral part of the curriculum. However, regulations set in place by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) added to the challenge.
Upon review, the CACREP’s documents and guidelines were unclear regarding whether they allowed counselor education programs to use teletherapy practices. Furthermore, the documents implied that telemedicine was second to face-to-face services. Fortunately, the University of Phoenix determined that distance supervision and telemedicine were not prohibited by the CACREP.
University of Phoenix professionals checked one more factor before they could introduce teletherapy to their curriculum. The team needed to confirm that the training would not interfere with their students’ state licensing requirements.
In order to become licensed, students must complete a certain number of direct client hours and indirect hours training, writing reports, and conducting administrative tasks. In addition, many of the hours required supervision in a face-to-face format. The variations in different state laws and compliance requirements complicated the university’s attempts to integrate telehealth. In the end, the team did not move forward with changes to the curriculum due to compliance issues.
With the state law variations currently barring the overall adoption of telemedicine in the University of Phoenix counselor curriculum, the proposed changes are at a standstill. Sadly, the pandemic is not unique nor likely to be the last time counselors will turn to digital or remote formats to best serve their clients.
Teletherapy must become an integral part of educational curriculums and internship experiences to prepare professionals for the realities of their field. With proper training, providers will be better able to serve as effective mental health professionals who can guide their clients to a state of healing, even in times of crisis or change.
The CACREP and state governments must see the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity to address the need for telemedicine in counselor curriculums. The University of Phoenix looks forward to a response from these entities that will enable educators to implement changes and open doors for critical curriculum improvements.
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