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METC trains BHT students in full range of mental health support

Two servicemembers talking at a table Air Force Airman Frederick Hall, (right) a student in the METC Behavioral Health Technician program, conducts a mock counseling session with Navy Seaman Chery Gonzales–Polanco, (left), a student acting as a patient in the simulation. (Photo by Lisa Braun, Medical Education and Training Campus Public Affairs)

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Millions of people in the U.S. are affected by mental illness each year.

While mental health issues are not uncommon, it is important to remove the stigma so those suffering and those around them will feel empowered to seek help.

Mental Health Awareness Month brings into focus awareness of and support for mental illness. Military mental health professionals provide a critical role in behavioral health care for service members and beneficiaries. The first provider a patient may see when seeking help is the behavioral health technician (BHT).

BHTs perform a wide range of tasks that support mental health providers in their treatment of patients with mental illness or developmental disability. BHTs also work directly with patients to include observing, treating and interacting with them.

Like their civilian counterparts, military BHTs perform a vital, front-line function in all healthcare settings. They are trained to conduct behavioral health screenings and assessments, deliver psychosocial interventions and case management services, and provide prevention and resilience services.

Army, Navy and Air Force BHTs are trained in the Behavioral Health Technician program located at the Medical Education and Training Campus (METC) on Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston in Texas. BHT students receive up to 17 weeks of training in a full range of behavioral health capacities. 

“We begin with teaching the students all they need to know regarding ethics and their duties as well as a brief overview of human anatomy and physiology with emphasis on the makeup and workings of the brain,” stated Army Staff Sgt. Miranda Hayes, METC BHT program instructor.

“We move into a lengthy instruction regarding all the diagnoses they may encounter from the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition) as well as how to treat different disorders,” she added.

Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Ebiye Osadare, also a METC BHT program instructor, said that they also cover subjects like history, environment, and circumstances that may produce stressors that can lead to some mental health disorders.

“We discuss the actual diagnostic criteria and specifiers to look at or consider when trying to make a diagnostic impression. We also have the students do case studies, watch videos as well as doing other interactive activities to properly understand each diagnostic group and treatment modalities or options for each disorder,” she explained. 

In addition, Hayes said that students are trained in collecting and recording of psychosocial and physical data from intake interviews and counseling sessions; assisting patients with activities of daily living; conducting group counseling sessions; the observation of medication side effects and behavioral changes; and providing educational presentations to patients on coping skills, medication adherence, and suicide prevention.

The training culminates with the students providing supervised patient care in inpatient and outpatient settings, gaining valuable hands-on experience prior to graduation.

Navy Seaman Chery Gonzales-Polanco, a student, said that she likes learning about why people act the way that they do and that even if people think differently it doesn’t necessarily mean that there is an issue.

“We should be more open minded that not everyone is happy or sad all that time but be more conscious about it,” said Gonzales-Polanco

“I feel this job has a large impact on mission readiness and saves lives even if not in the “traditional” sense,” said Hayes. “I enjoy instructing future BHTs for many reasons. However, at the top of my list would be that I am able to make an impact on the quality of technicians that we are sending out into the operational and clinical settings.”

Osadare said she finds satisfaction as a BHT because she likes to talk to people and offer support. “I am passionate about reducing the stigma when it comes to mental health and encouraging people to seek help if they need it and for many different needs,” she stated. 

“It’s important to understand that we are all human and all go through things, but we all have different ways of processing them.”

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