Social Work Psychotherapy: UAMS, UALR Center Provides Therapy Training

Jon Parham

Kevin Navin, LCSW

When licensed clinical social worker Kevin Navin was in graduate school in the 1990s, email was still largely only found on university campuses and pagers were commonplace.

Just as technology has changed, so have mental health treatment models, Navin said. Counselors must stay current, not only to provide the best care to clients but also to understand how changing societal factors may require new approaches.

These factors make the Psychotherapy Training Center, co-sponsored by the UAMS Psychiatric Research Institute and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) School of Social Work, critical — and convenient.

“These courses provide a terrific opportunity to go far more in-depth in the material than a one-day continuing education session that might require traveling across the country,” said Navin, a therapist with the Psychiatric Research Institute. “Therapy is a nuanced and challenging process and there is always room to improve my skill set.”

Mental health professionals must adapt to changing cultural issues and develop interventions that make sense.Kevin Navin, L.C.S.W.

Kim Jones, Ph.D., director of the training center and a professor in the UALR School of Social Work, said the five-year-old program grew out of discussions with then-institute director G. Richard Smith, M.D.

“We wanted to create a set of courses focused on evidence-based psychotherapy — training not available in Arkansas,” Jones said.

The 10-15 week courses include cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy with an emphasis on treating mood, anxiety and personality disorders. Other courses include family therapy, couples therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, psychodynamic psychotherapy, and dialectical behavior therapy, which can be used for treating personality disorders.,

Evidence-based means the techniques are rooted in proven therapy approaches backed by data and research.

“Patients are coming in more informed than ever before so they want to know the treatment they will receive has been shown effective in other settings,” Jones said.

The program capitalizes on the resources of both institutions. UALR provides some of the instructors and the curriculum, the Psychiatric Research Institute offers the space and equipment, along with the one of the main target audiences— its clinicians, residents and fellows.

Other participants in the courses include UALR graduate students in social work along with community mental health.

The multi-disciplinary nature of the program participants reflects the environment many therapists will practice in, offering another benefit, Jones said. Navin said it gives the courses exciting energy to have experienced clinicians learning alongside graduate students.

Navin participated in the couples therapy course and is now attending the course in acceptance and commitment therapy. This model for treatment differs from cognitive behavioral therapy in that rather than teaching patients to control thoughts, feelings or sensations, it embraces awareness, acceptance and understanding.

“Mental health professionals must adapt to changing cultural issues and develop interventions that make sense, which is why it’s important for therapists to know the most current thinking and approaches,” Navin said.

“Family systems have changed.  It is commonplace for 25-year-olds to live at home and for grandparents to raise grandchildren.”

Licensed clinical social worker Karen Miller, who also took the family therapy course added: “Part of the course involved observing the instructors conducting family therapy sessions with consenting new clients. It was incredibly informative to watch them skillfully model the skills that I’d previously just read about. The difference in my practice was immediate.”