Earlier this year in April, VA’s Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and its Mental Health Services held its first National Women’s Mental Health Mini-Residency. This innovative clinical training program is a key part of a VHA’s national effort to ensure that mental health providers have the knowledge and skills needed to provide the rapidly growing population of women Veterans with gender-tailored mental health care that addresses their unique treatment needs.
Approximately 200 participants, representing nearly every VA medical facility as well as Vet Centers attended this intensive three-day training event. Nationally and internationally recognized experts led training sessions on evidence-based psychotherapies and psychiatric medications. The training sessions were designed to be highly interactive and incorporated small group workshops, discussion of case examples, live demonstrations and role playing.
“We set a very high bar for ourselves in developing this new training initiative and – with the help of a tremendously talented faculty and program development team – I think we created something that is truly innovative and unique” said Dr. Susan McCutcheon, VHA’s national mental health director for family services, women’s mental health and military sexual trauma.
The mini-residency covered a broad range of training topics, including treating women who have experienced gender-linked traumas, such as intimate partner violence and sexual abuse; addressing unhealthy eating patterns in women; working with women with mental health problems linked to hormonal changes and the reproductive cycle; special considerations when prescribing psychiatric medications to women; understanding suicide risks in women Veterans; and integrating peer counselors into women Veterans’ treatment and recovery. At the beginning and end of the training, two female peer counselors shared powerful personal stories of their own experiences as women Veterans whose lives have been touched by VHA providers.
As part of the training, participants developed action plans for disseminating best practices for women Veterans’ mental health at their local VHA facilities. Each now serves as a member of a national network of women’s mental health champions with a shared commitment to advancing gender-sensitive mental health services for women Veterans.
Kayla Williams is the director of the Center for Women Veterans at VA Central Office, in Washington, D.C. The center monitors VA’s administration of benefits and services for women Veterans and promotes recognition of contributions made by women who served in the armed forces.