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Grant Helps UW Department of Psychology Provide Free Service to Abuse Victims


August 9, 2013 — Free counseling is available to victims of partner violence and sexual assault in Campbell, Carbon and Laramie counties. The service is through a new telehealth program offered by the University of Wyoming Department of Psychology.

The Verizon Foundation has contributed more than $34,000 for the program, which is administered through the psychology department, says Department Head Carolyn Pepper.

“In a rural state like Wyoming, it is particularly challenging to figure out how to provide quality mental health treatment in rural areas that lack hospital facilities,” Pepper says. “Faculty and students in the UW Department of Psychology have collaborative relationships around the state to enhance our understanding and treatment of a wide array of mental health problems, including schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidality and bullying in schools.”

She adds that UW graduate students in the department’s clinical psychology training program provide mental health services throughout the state as part of summer clerkships.

During the program’s three years, clients of Wyoming Safehouse in Cheyenne, Carbon County COVE in Rawlins, and the Gillette Abuse Refuge Foundation have taken advantage of the UW Department of Psychology’s clinical program, using secure, encrypted videoconferencing equipment.

The equipment essentially is the same technology that is used to encrypt credit card information when making payments over the Internet, says Matt Gray, UW Department of Psychology associate professor, who supervises the program.

“A third party cannot hack into the session, so clients can rest assured that all services are rendered confidentially as would be the case with in-person services. This is particularly important for victims of stalking and other privacy intrusions,” he says.

“Matt has developed a specialty clinic to provide state-of-the-art treatment to victims of domestic violence in rural communities around the state using telehealth technology,” Pepper says.

The technology allows clients to receive free, evidence-based therapy for difficulties stemming from partner violence without leaving their local communities. Due to a facilities renovation, the clinic was closed this summer and will reopen in September.

“Many victims of sexual assault and intimate partner violence do not have financial resources or insurance to pay for conventional services. We offer therapy free of charge and can typically get clients connected with a therapist within 72 hours,” Gray says. “This is especially useful in instances of recent assault. We also provide specialized trauma treatment when specific presenting problems render those therapies appropriate.”

UW personnel formally assess symptoms of depression, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) ) and other relevant concerns every few sessions so that clients can be assured that services are effective and can quickly be modified if a participant does not appear to be responding, Gray says. More than 50 clients have used the services.

“A recent examination of pre-treatment and post-treatment symptoms for telehealth clients treated to date shows large clinical improvements, on average, and high client satisfaction ratings,” Gray says. “As with any form of counseling or therapy, not everyone benefits from services, but the majority of our clients seem to benefit a great deal.”

Each year, three to five UW students pursuing doctoral degrees in clinical psychology provide the services to telehealth program participants.

This year, the Verizon Foundation’s $6,234 grant will provide partial funding for a master's-level therapist to help staff the clinic. Having a therapist dedicated exclusively to the clinic allows participants to benefit from services offered by a specialist in domestic violence issues. It also ensures the continued services and increased access to care for crisis center clients, Gray says.

“Students get experience providing telehealth-mediated services, a rare training opportunity nationally, but that will be increasingly used in the years ahead,” he adds. “We also think that by partnering with these distant sites, our students have more opportunities to familiarize themselves with, and acquire experience working with, survivors of sexual and intimate partner violence. This also has been helpful in providing financial support for students in training thanks to the generous support of the Verizon Foundation.”

For more information about the clinic, contact Gray at (307) 766-2927 or email gray@uwyo.edu.

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