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Health and Behavioral Health Specialization

Purpose Statement

The Health and Behavioral Health Specialization prepares students to bring a broad perspective of assessing, treating, and evaluating mental health, substance abuse, and physical health in relation to one another across practice settings. A focus throughout the specialization will be understanding the multiple factors that influence health disparities and best practices to increase health equity, particularly for marginalized populations. There will be a special emphasis on effectively serving vulnerable populations with multiple needs.


Students completing this specialization are expected to:

  1. Demonstrate an understanding of the theoretical foundations, principles, and assumptions underlying behavioral health practice (e.g. an integrated approach to mental health, substance abuse, and physical health) across a variety of different practice settings.
  2. Assess client problems and/or macro systems from an integrated perspective that considers the intersection of substance abuse, mental health, and physical health and their environment.
  3. Identify specific, evidence-based tools that are used to assess specific presenting problems for substance abuse and mental health and demonstrate proficiency in using these tools for initial assessment and ongoing evaluation.
  4. Develop treatment plans that incorporate multiple presenting problems and demonstrate an ability to prioritize these problems.
  5. Identify specific, evidence-based treatments that are appropriate for treating complex presenting problems and demonstrate beginning skills in using these treatments in field practice.
  6. Demonstrate a basic understanding of the policies (including funding streams) that affect the development and delivery of behavioral health services.
  7. Identify the role and impact that social determinants of health and the environment have on behavioral health.

Unique Opportunities and Recent Programs

  • The Global Leaders of Behavioral-health Education (GLOBE) program at the GCSW prepares students for advanced practice in behavioral health with vulnerable populations through training and financial support for each semester in which students are enrolled in field education. The GLOBE program sponsors several workshops a year that are open to all students, faculty and field instructors. Workshop topics include skills training in behavioral health and evidence based treatments for mental health among various populations.
  • Agencies for Gerontology Intercultural Field Training (AGIFT) Fellowships, originally funded by the John A. Hartford Foundation of New York City and also funded by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment in Gerontology Social Work Scholars Program, prepare graduate social work students for competent, culturally sensitive practice in gerontological social work. Fellowships are available during the semesters in which the student is enrolled in designated field practicum courses and placed in designated AGIFT agencies. Students will be selected for fellowships through a competitive application process administered by the Office of Field Education.
  • The Child Trauma Program at the GCSW prepares clinical students to utilize an empirically supported model, trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT) that effectively treats children and families exposed to traumatic life events.  The skills learned in this course will translate into more effective counseling practices and greater treatment outcomes for trauma-exposed children.  Students will be selected for fellowships through a competitive application process and will be placed in agencies that provide TF-CBT trained field instructors to reinforce the evidence based treatment practices.  The program requires successful completion of on-line course work as well as face-to-face trainings.
  • Research opportunities for students in mental health and substance abuse through the Virtual Reality Clinical Research Laboratory.

Affiliated Faculty

McClain Sampson
Donna Amtsberg
Aabha Brown
Jodi Berger Cardoso
Christina Miyawaki 
Sarah Narendorf
Susan Robbins
Isabel Torres

Required Course (Choose one)

SOCW 7309: Contemporary Issues in Mental Health

SOCW 7397: Behavioral Health for Social Work Practice in Integrated Health Care

Elective Courses (Choose two)

SOCW 7326: Disparities in Health in America: Working Towards Social Justice

SOCW 7336: Issues in Aging

SOCW 7340: Clinical Social Work Practice with Children & Adolescents

SOCW 7354 Spirituality and Aging

SOCW 7361: Clinical Social Work Practice with Older Adults

SOCW 7356: Social Work Practice with Groups in Clinical Settings

SOCW 7377: Drugs in Society

SOCW 7344: Family Violence

SOCW 7347: Social Work Practice & Interventions in Schools

SOCW 7371: Trauma & Social Work Practice

Field Criteria

Behavioral health field sites should have the terms "mental health", "substance abuse", "integrated care", or "behavioral health" in their mission statement or agency description. Field sites should expose students to viewing mental health as part of overall health functioning through programs and/or client or policy advocacy. 

Clinical students should have opportunities to shadow or conduct at least one aspect of assessment, discharge, treatment planning, intervention, treatment, or program evaluation for mental health and/or substance abuse. 

Macro students should have opportunities to conduct needs assessment(s) of a population or program focused on health or behavioral health. 

Common settings include hospitals, clinics that treat dual diagnosis cases, hospices offering mental health care, Federally Qualified Health Centers, community behavioral health programs, etc.