APU Takes Substance-abuse Intervention Training to Other Universities

by Jason Cunningham

Three professors from Azusa Pacific University and one from the University of California, Los Angeles, received a grant of more than $900,000 from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to develop a substance-abuse intervention training program for students at faith-based schools preparing to enter allied health professions. APU is now bringing the program to other institutions of higher learning.

Rachel Castaneda, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Psychology; Mary Rawlings, Ph.D., LCSW, chair and professor in the Department of Social Work; Sheryl Tyson, Ph.D., RN, PMHCNS, associate dean for research and faculty development and professor in the School of Nursing; and Sherry Larkins, a research sociologist in UCLA’s Department of Psychiatry, were awarded $935,831 to develop a faith-based Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) training curriculum that equips future nursing, social work, and marriage and family therapy professionals with evidence-based strategies to best serve those in their care.

“This initiative is designed to provide training to students specifically in the allied health professions, to help prepare them to go out after residency programs into their various settings and interface with patients and identify unhealthy drug and alcohol use,” said Castaneda, the project director.

She said the higher education field so far hasn’t done much to address substance abuse.

“If you look across the board at secular and faith-based schools, when you start to dig into nursing, social work, and psychology programs, the attention to substance-abuse disorders is minimal, sprinkled into the curriculum, so students are ill-prepared and ill-equipped to address this.”

She also said there’s a big nationwide push under way to make health care more patient-oriented, which means incorporating patient values into each encounter. This aligns with APU’s commitment to valuing and treating the whole person, and includes addressing cultural and religious practices.

“Part of the challenge is there are not a lot of resources when it comes to integrating faith; part of the beauty of this is that we’ve been asked to pioneer what it looks like to integrate faith and spirituality into cultural competency. We’re trying to encourage students to do what we do—faith integration—pushing them to think more critically, and to think more about worldviews and what that might look like as they interface with patients.”

The first stage involved developing the curriculum, then establishing partner schools and conducting needs assessments for them, such as determining what kinds of classes they offer and identifying key faculty to receive the training.

So far, Castaneda said, the response from other schools has been great, and APU has established partnerships with UCLA, Fresno Pacific University, Biola University, California Baptist University, Concordia University, La Sierra University, and the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health’s Clergy Academy.

“They’re very enthusiastic and excited to participate. It’s been seamless, and it’s been really exciting to start developing cooperative partnerships with other schools from the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities. Some of the success has been working with key leaders who have been instrumental in identifying this as an important need and embracing it.”

Students at the participating schools, including Azusa Pacific, will begin receiving the training in fall 2017.

Jason Cunningham is a writer/editor in the Office of University Relations.