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‘Hands-on’ clinic meets community health needs; readies students for their careers

MU researchers believe clinic could be a model duplicated in other university communities

October 31st, 2018

Story Contact: Sheena Rice, 573-882-8353,

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Millions of Americans live with mental illness and, due to financial reasons, go without treatment. A new type of clinic in the middle of the country — staffed and managed by University of Missouri students — is increasing access to behavioral health care.

The Integrative Behavioral Health Clinic, which just celebrated its fourth anniversary, aims to help uninsured or underinsured individuals who lack access to quality behavioral health services. In a recent evaluation of the clinic, researchers from the MU School of Social Work found most clients reported high satisfaction with the clinic and the care they received.

“Our analysis also showed that anxiety and depression symptoms were significantly lower for clients after completing sessions with the graduate social work students in comparison to when they entered the clinic,” said Kelli Canada, associate professor of social work and co-supervisor of the clinic. “Clients also reported that they were more satisfied with their overall health after completing sessions, demonstrating how mental health affects one’s overall health.”

Through surveys, clients of the clinic reported changes in their depression, anxiety and quality of life before entering the clinic and after completing sessions. Students who served as practitioners and front-desk attendants also were surveyed about their experiences.

“Clients told us that our students are a blessing and that the therapy they received improved their lives,” said Rebekah Freese, clinical instructor and co-supervisor of the clinic. “Likewise, students reported that working in the clinic allowed them to gain a deeper understanding of mental health care and how they could apply their learning in a real-world setting.”

To provide free mental health care, the clinic relies on graduate students for counseling services. The students are under intensive supervision from licensed clinical social workers. Undergraduate students also get career experience in the clinic from working at the front desk and maintaining clinic operations.

“The clinic is just another example of the ‘Missouri Method’ style of learning that happens at Mizzou,” Canada said. “Our students aren’t just learning about behavioral health care in the classroom, they are learning how to help people in a real, clinical setting while meeting the needs of the community.”

The clinic was founded in 2014 by the MU School of Social Work following a needs assessment conducted by a group of Mizzou medical students who worked in MedZou, a student-run, physical health clinic for adults without insurance. Their assessment revealed that more than one-third of their clients had anxiety or other depressive disorders and few options existed for mental health care for these clients.

The clinic has served more than 230 clients and has trained more than 70 students in the first four years of operation. Since the clinic’s inception, it has had a waiting list for services. Canada says this demonstrates the need for this kind of free clinic for people who do not have access to care.

“Integrative Behavioral Health Clinic: a model for social work practice, community engagement and in vivo learning,” recently was published in the Journal of Social Work Education. The Integrative Behavioral Health Clinic has received funding from the Schwab Fund for Charitable Giving, Mizzou Women Give and other charitable gifts.

The School of Social Work is in the MU College of Human Environmental Sciences.