Dr. Arien K. Muzacz, clinical associate professor for the College of Education’s Master of Counseling Clinical Mental Health Counseling program, is helping usher in a new era where counseling services will reach clients through technology.
Last fall, Dr. Muzacz was the recipient of a professional development award from the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC); this summer, she completed required trainings and a national exam to earn a new credential, the BC-TMH (Board Certification in Telemental Health). The award, which is presented through the NBCC’s Center for Credentialing & Education, included a $500 award to help Dr. Muzacz facilitate professional development in the area of telemental health.
The NBCC is the nation’s premier certification board devoted to credentialing those who meet standards for the general and specialty practices of professional counseling. The organization also provides what is considered the Gold Standard for those practicing remotely or specializing in telemental health.
Telehealth, which is the distribution of health-related services through technology, is not new. Many Oregonians have used technology to communicate with their health care providers in some form or another, whether it is setting up appointments, checking lab results, or consulting on a new health concern. However, telehealth became more common and more vital during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. But, the telehealth innovations that came out of that global crisis do not always benefit clients in need of counseling services.
Beyond the obvious privacy concerns, many Oregonians may not have access to internet-ready devices, or the bandwidth needed to get telehealth services. Even in heavily populated areas like Portland, potential clients may rely on libraries or other public spaces for their internet access — hardly an ideal situation for a counseling session.
“As counselors, we are always looking for ways to reduce barriers for our clients,” said Dr. Muzacz. “Telehealth has great potential in this area. Even without the pandemic, telehealth could help counselors reach those living in very rural locations, or in smaller communities where in-person counseling services are few or nonexistent.”
But barriers still exist. Beyond access to the needed technology, Dr. Muzacz notes that it is vital for counselors to ensure confidentiality and implement best practices to make sure clients receive the same quality of care they would when meeting with a counselor in person.
“During the height of the pandemic, some privacy requirements through the Health and Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) were waived as the need for telemental health grew during an unprecedented crisis,” said Dr. Muzacz. “But as social distancing and other restrictions have eased, those exemptions are being reversed and counselors providing remote services will need to adapt to ensure privacy for their clients.”
Dr. Muzacz’s NBCC certification will allow her to build on her own expertise as a professional counselor and set an example for many of the College of Education Master’s students who are considering careers in telemental health.
“Due largely to the COVID-19 pandemic, working from home is very appealing to many of our students,” Dr. Muzacz said. “It’s our responsibility to fill in the gaps in their training to make sure they’re providing the highest quality care. I’m looking forward to helping them integrate these standards into their professional practice.”
The College of Education congratulates Dr. Muzacz on her award and the vital work she does for our students and our fellow Oregonians.
Post written by Marsh Myers