Free mental health services through MFT partnership

A partnership between Syracuse Community Connections (SCC) and Falk College’s Department of Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) at Syracuse University is bringing free-of-charge, confidential mental health services to the Syracuse Model Neighborhood Facility. Children, teens, seniors, and families accessing other services at this site can now access counseling without costly insurance co-payments or traveling to an unfamiliar location.

“Many clients may wait long periods of time or are apprehensive about talking with someone skilled enough to listen and guide them through the rough waves in life. This partnership will change lives and homes,” says Merlin Merrain, MPH, SCC director of health services. The new mental health services are provided by Falk College graduate students supervised by American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT)-approved mental health professionals at the Syracuse Model Neighborhood Facility.

Appointments are available weekdays and evenings and can be made by calling (315) 671-5817 or (315) 671-5835.

Syracuse Model Neighborhood Facility, Inc., also known as Syracuse Community Connections, has been a staple of the South and Southwest segment of the city since 1974. The agency includes a trusted, passionate group of individuals advocating tirelessly for better living, safer neighborhoods, healthier outcomes and equal opportunities for neighborhood residents. Critical services offered to the community include:

  • Culturally competent health services for persons living with HIV from ages 16 and up or who may be at high risk for contracting the virus or other sexually transmitted infections;
  • Maternal and paternal child care services, diaper bank and doula services;
  • Anti-gun violence and trauma response;
  • Alternative schooling;
  • Afterschool programming for young children and youth;
  • Senior programs, and;
  • Food pantry and food giveaways.

During Syracuse University’s Fall 2018 semester, Brandon Hollie G’21, a second-year Ph.D. student in marriage and family therapy, turned his research interest of decreasing violence in urban communities into action. His research, published recently by the National Council on Family Relations, examines gun violence as a symptom of past inter-generationally transmitted injustices focuses on preventing gun and gang violence in the Black community. Hollie began counseling clients at the Syracuse Model Neighborhood Facility this fall and is already seeing an increase in participation.

“Increased access to treatment in impoverished neighborhoods is one way to reduce violence, and strengthening the bond between individuals and their families could impact prevention and intervention of gun violence,” says Hollie. “These sessions allow people to express themselves without judgement, and leave feeling empowered to make change in their lives and communities,” adds Hollie.

According to Tracey Reichert-Schimpff who directs the Couple and Family Therapy Clinic in Syracuse University’s Falk College and is a doctoral student in the MFT program, students are engaging clients in a location that is convenient and familiar, which may mean that more individuals and families will be willing to receive services. In turn, student therapists will gain a deeper understanding of the needs of those impacted by community violence. “Working at this site offers the opportunity to develop relationships with other programs that are part of the setting. This certainly enhances knowledge and increases sensitivity to and connection with the local community,” says Reichert-Schimpff.

Collaborations led by Falk College addressing neighborhood violence and trauma date back to 2008. During a class focused on the signs of alcohol abuse, Timothy “Noble” Jennings-Bey, director of the Trauma Response Team (TRT), connected street life to addiction. That is, why do young men engage in destructive criminal, violent behavior? He shared his theory with Falk public health professors Dessa Bergen-Cico and Sandra Lane. Their on-going collaboration has resulted in 11 journal articles, one book chapter, a video, and dozens of media interviews. In addition to Jennings-Bey, Bergen-Cico and Lane, partners now include Falk public health faculty David Larsen and Arthur Owora, Tracey Reichert Schimpff and Linda Stone Fish from Falk’s MFT Department, Robert A. Rubinstein, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, and Robert Keefe, faculty member at the University at Buffalo. Community partners include Frank Fowler, former chief, Syracuse Police Department, and Helen Hudson, Syracuse Common Council president and founder of Mothers Against Gun Violence, among others.

“It is an exciting and hopeful time to have these unique opportunities to work with faculty, students and community members to collectively reduce the impact of trauma and address the root causes of violence in our community. The City of Syracuse has dedicated citizens who are taking bold and innovative steps to reshape how mental health needs are addressed. It is a wonderful synergy of bringing theory to practice whereby the lived experiences of community members are at the core of our work,” says Bergen-Cico.

In recent years, grant awards from the Health Foundation of Western and Central New York and the John Ben Snow Foundation have supported workshops to help social service professionals, educators, health care practitioners, juvenile justice workers, clergy, and mental health counselors learn how to identify and address signs of trauma.

Reichert-Schimpff notes the collaborations with the community have also increased the awareness and skills of students entering the mental health field. Each year, Jennings-Bey and the team from the Street Addictions Institute, along with Syracuse University faculty, educate MFT students around community violence and street addictions. Students hear directly from community members about how their lives have been impacted by policies and intergenerational injustice. Students also visit SCC to become familiar with available resources.

“We believe that offering trauma-informed practice in the neighborhoods of greatest violence will begin to address the most often ignored trauma, and may reduce the grief and rage that fuels the next act of violence,” says Falk Family Endowed Professor of Marriage and Family Therapy, Linda Stone Fish. “Our unique partnership with therapists and Trauma Response Team members who are trusted by the community make us ideal to address this need.”

In addition to the new mental health services provision at Syracuse Community Connections and the study and data collection specific to gun violence and gang activity as street addictions to address communities in trauma and public safety as a public health problem, on-going trauma-informed activities in Falk College also include:

  • a training program funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and supported through the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, to prepare military veterans to conduct trauma-related research with other veterans;
  • coursework and research on trauma informed mindfulness-based programs for veterans their families and others impacted by violence;
  • how veterans’ experiences of complex and morally fraught circumstances in military service in time of war affect emotional, mental, and spiritual health;
  • neurobiology of trauma;
  • collaborative training models for interpreters and practitioners of psychotherapy;
  • trauma resiliency in urban environments;
  • turbulent tenancy-evictions in Syracuse;
  • promoting school success among at-risk urban adolescents;
  • gender-based violence and substance abuse among female adolescents;
  • coursework and research in intimate partner violence in the U.S. and neighborhood violence in the U.S. and Caribbean;
  • links between neuropsychological executive functions and domestic violence;
  • coursework in EMDR Therapy, which relieves many types of psychological distress, and;
    courses and an academic track focused on trauma in medical settings with children.

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