Behavioral Health Support Graduates Ready to Make a Difference in People’s Lives
Depression, anxiety, eating disorders and substance abuse. These conditions, among others, can have a significant impact on an individual’s health and well-being.
In recent years, treatment practices have shifted toward a more integrated approach that addresses both the physical and mental struggles the individual faces. This shift has not only led to improvements in patient care, but also an abundance of new jobs in the helping profession.
To meet the growing need for trained behavioral health professionals, St. Louis Community College began developing an associate degree program that would fill this gap. In 2018, the College launched the region’s first degree program in behavioral health support, and this month, will award diplomas to its first four program graduates.
Students Colleen Bartow, Kathy Flynn, Mercedes Kessler and Julia Sargent each had their own reasons for enrolling in the degree program at STLCC-Wildwood. Upon graduation, they will be prepared for employment in state, county and local mental health agencies as well as substance abuse counseling facilities, schools and more. Coupled with this, they are poised to earn salaries comparable to that of bachelor’s degree technicians.
According to Jenna Mueller, program coordinator and assistant professor, these graduates are ready to enter the workforce and make a difference in the lives of the patients they serve.
“Behavioral health is one of the fastest growing areas in health care, and now more than ever, there is a need for individuals to enter this line of work,” Mueller said. “Every time I get a student out in the community, agencies are impressed by their level of understanding and their commitment to the work. It’s incredibly rewarding, and I’m proud of what we are doing at STLCC to prepare our graduates for careers in behavioral health.”
Flynn is preparing to graduate. After working in the accounting field for more than 30 years, she chose to switch gears and pursue a degree in behavioral health.
“I’ve always had a passion for helping others, and the time just felt right for me to follow my heart and get into a helping profession,” she said. “For me, STLCC has been the perfect fit because it has provided a variety of experiences that have deepened my knowledge and strengthened my resolve to help others.”
Although there are countless positions available and work to do, the global pandemic has created some unique challenges for the program. Among these, students have had to adjust to the new reality of life while also learning how to provide effective care through a virtual format.
“The delivery of care continues to be one of the biggest issues facing professionals in the health care industry,” Mueller said. “There’s a delicate balance between safety and the needs of the patient, and our students have been navigating these unusual circumstances with tenacity and grace.”
Bartow can attest to that. When her practicum experience was cut short in March, she worked with her site coordinator to complete the hours she needed virtually.
“Without a doubt, the pandemic has altered my experience in the program, but it has also allowed me to gain new perspective that I wouldn’t necessarily have received before,” she said. “Given that not all clients have access to technology, it’s been interesting to shadow some sessions socially distanced and masked as well as participate, with the client’s permission, in virtual sessions.”
Both Flynn and Bartow are eager to graduate with their peers and start their careers in behavioral health.
“I’m so glad I followed my heart and enrolled at STLCC,” Flynn said. “It’s rewarding to go to bed at night knowing that the work I’m doing is making a difference in someone else’s life.”
Bartow added: “This line of work is a labor of love. If you’re considering a career in the helping profession, you must count your desire and ability to make a difference in people’s lives as part of the payment.”