Class trains mental health workers

A police officer chasing a suspect with a mental illness will need to know how to react to a range of complex situations.

Workers in a wide range of fields including education, social work and law enforcement require an understanding of human behavior to handle their daily tasks. A new course addresses this need.

The Florida Mental Health Institute hopes to appeal to a wide range of students with its new class, Multidisciplinary Behavioral Healthcare Services, or MHS 3234.

Larry Thompson, director of education and training for the Department of Mental Health Law Policy, said the course is an exciting step for the institute.

?We?re a research institution here so we do not have a degree program,? he said. ?It?s a new venture for us; we want to contribute to the teaching of this university.?

Thompson said the course is the evolution of a training program created by the institute, which is geared towards teaching individuals who work in mental healthcare but do not have much training in that field.

?A person might have a degree in English literature and graduate and find themselves working on a psychiatric unit,? he said. ?We began offering basic skills training for workers who are taking jobs in these agencies but do not have background in psychology or social work.?

Thompson said the new course uses this teaching and presents it in an undergraduate environment. He said the institute is offering the course for a variety of majors. The reason, he said, is that people in these fields must deal with mental health concerns on a daily basis.

?We find that much of the treatment and prevention of mental health and substance abuse problems are done by non-traditional health care givers, such as teachers, emergency room workers and doctors,? he said. ?If we can better train those who are working with people in general, we can really prevent people from needing therapy.?

Besides Thompson?s lectures, there will be several guest speakers throughout the semester that allow students to learn directly from the experts.

Chip Weiner, a mental health counselor who has been working at the institute for seven years, was the lecturer at the first class meeting Tuesday night. He said the first meeting of the class was very successful.

?We kind of hit our target as far as who we wanted to be in the class,? he said. ?There were lots of questions and lots of interest.?

Weiner said having a large group of lecturers for the class is beneficial to the students.

?The primary difference is if you have one instructor teaching one subject, you get one person?s perspective,? he said. ?(Having several instructors) allows students to get a wide variety of opinions but specific ideas.?

Though Weiner said the institute found some students who were interested in the subject, Thompson said the disappointment so far is the turnout for this first offering of the class has been low.

He said three students have signed up for the class. Thompson said the low turnout is due in large part to the fact that the class is not part of any major or minor curriculum.

Thompson said being part of the institute has been beneficial in that the class has been able to continue with a small enrollment.

University rules normally call for a class that is under-enrolled to be canceled. Thompson said this will not be the case for his class.

?Because other departments are funded through tuition money they?re much more concerned with that than we need to be,? he said. ?We?re funded as a research institute.?

Thompson said the class is struggling because it?s not part of a curriculum.

?Right now we?re limited because it?s just an elective,? he said.

Thompson said one of the other problems is the class is brand new to the institute.

?The Florida Mental Health Institute is not used to offering those classes so we have a job to get the word out,? he said.

One of the ways to gain publicity, Thompson said, is to contact advisors throughout the university and ask them to suggest the class.

Even with the small size, Thompson said he is hopeful about the future of the class. He said plans are in the works to bring more undergraduate learning to the institute.

?We?re working on a plan to develop a 15-credit-hour minor and this class would be the introductory class,? he said.

Thompson said the goal of the institute remains to help people understand advances in the field of behavioral healthcare and use it in their jobs.

?We feel we have some expertise in theory and practice,? he said. ?We?d like to share that experience.?

Contact Rob Brannon at