VA pilot program provides internships for UHV counseling students

A trio of University of Houston-Victoria graduate students recently were awarded paid internships to receive hands-on mental health counseling training at the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Houston.

The UHV School of Education, Health Professions & Human Development and the DeBakey VA center are partners in a pilot program designed to expand the recruitment pipeline of well-trained, highly qualified health care providers in mental health professions. UHV is one of just seven universities in the nation to take part in the first-of-its-kind pilot program.

Fred Litton

“We see this as an opportunity for our students to get tremendous hands-on experience and bolster their career prospects as licensed professional mental health counselors,” said Fred Litton, dean of the UHV School of Education, Health Professions & Human Development. “It’s exciting to be part of a pilot program that could become the norm for training counselors.”

UHV graduate students Miriam Harris and Camecia Mike, both of Houston, and Sandra Wilson of Dickinson will be interns at DeBakey. Harris will intern during the fall and spring. Mike and Wilson will intern during the spring and summer. All three are pursuing a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling. Each student will receive $6,495 during the internship.

The interns will learn more about working with veterans and their families in the center’s addiction unit. They will learn integrated behavioral health care in line with mental health care trends, said Katherine Bacon, a UHV assistant professor of counseling. Integrated care means the primary care physician and the counselor are located in the same clinic.

Katherine Bacon

UHV internships with the DeBakey center will continue in future school years but will be unpaid positions, Bacon said. The DeBakey center serves as the primary health care provider for almost 130,000 veterans in southeast Texas.

“This will be used as a model program for VA centers across the country,” Bacon said. “It’s anticipated that other programs will follow and build upon what occurs at these seven VA centers that are providing internships to graduate counseling students.”

The Veterans Health Administration Office of Academic Affiliations in collaboration with Mental Health Services of the Office of Patient Care Services and the Office of Mental Health Operations established the pilot program. The agencies want to increase expertise in mental health counseling and promote collaboration in an integrated mental health care environment. The interns are given priority for positions at the VA after they graduate.

In order to apply for the grant, VA centers had to partner with a higher education program accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. UHV is the only CACREP-accredited program in Victoria and Houston. Federal law mandates the VA only hire CACREP-accredited counseling graduates.

UHV previously obtained an unrelated $850,737 federal grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The grant period began in September and will continue until August 2017. UHV is using 70 percent of the funding to provide student stipends, which help UHV counseling interns offset some tuition and cost-of-living expenses.

For more information about the counseling programs, contact Reese Alexander, UHV education recruitment coordinator, at or 832-842-2931.

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.

Jeremy Shapiro