Training Mental Health Workers to Respond More Effectively to Those with Brain Injury

Thanks to Mary Begor, the Crisis Intervention Community Support Specialist for the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, and Donna Cantrell at the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, the Program Specialist for Virginia’s Federal Traumatic Brain Injury Act Grant, BIAV was given an amazing opportunity.

Since January of this year (2019), I have been privileged to provide 4-hour workshops for staff throughout all of Virginia’s Community Service Boards (CSB). I have toured the state to conduct these trainings; so far, I’ve done 10, and have 2 more to go in October. More than 200 staff within the CSB’s have been trained on what brain injury is, what it isn’t, and how to respond more effectively to those with a BI diagnosis.

CSB’s are the mental health safety nets in Virginia. Local and state governments fund these agencies to provide services to persons in crisis, those who have mental health and/or substance misuse disorders, and those who receive services under home and community based waivers. For people with brain injury, receiving services at the CSB’s is often a hit or miss thing…some are open to them, some are not.

In this training, attendees learned about the anatomy of the brain and what happens when a brain injury occurs. They were taught about the different lobes of the brain and their functions, the cognitive and behavioral challenges that people can experience, treatment strategies, and resources for assistance. They met local brain injury service providers to begin building relationships we hope will create more collaboration between agencies. They were also educated on the links between brain injury and domestic violence, homelessness, mental health disorders and involvement with the justice system…all populations serve by CSB’s.  

Attendees also learned how to screen for brain injury to ensure people are properly identified and treated appropriately. As I mention in each one of my trainings, if you haven’t screened someone for brain injury and what you diagnose and treat them for is a mental health disorder, it would be like giving cancer drugs to a patient with diabetes. People don’t get better if they’re not treated for the right thing.

We did try to make the trainings a little fun, so we used games to have them apply what they’d learned; they had to identify which lobes of the brain and what cognitive skills they were using to play those games.  We showed some pretty awesome videos, had a few laughs, and made friends.

Evaluations from the trainings we’ve done have shown that everyone left knowing more about brain injury than they did when they came in. Many of them said they thought it would change their practice. And the comments we got back were so gratifying: “Anne’s wealth of knowledge coexisting with a passion to educate the audience was my favorite part,” and “I haven’t enjoyed a training this much in years!

One commenter even said, “This training should be mandatory for all CSB direct service staff.” Wouldn’t that be amazing?  We’ll see what options we have to keep this program going and increase the knowledge CSB staff have about brain injury, so we can continue to expand access to necessary services for those that need them.

Anne McDonnell