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Comer: A Visionary Transforming Undergraduate Education in Behavioral Healthcare

September 1, 2012

While working in a locked, long-term psychiatric ward for adults in the 1970s, Ronald Comer, DSW, came to the realization that any hope of helping patients recover from their illnesses was hinged on major changes occurring within systems of care. Of particular concern were his firsthand observations that he and other direct care staff lacked important areas of knowledge and skills required to work effectively with people who have serious mental illnesses.

Based on these early experiences, and after several years working as a trainer and consultant to direct care professionals in mental health care settings, Comer became devoted to effecting significant change in preparing the future behavioral health workforce by transforming the undergraduate education students receive. His vision was the development of a new kind of baccalaureate program, one that would employ a comprehensive, skills-based curriculum and provide students with the essential competencies to enter the behavioral health workforce well-prepared.

Today’s Bachelor of Science degree program in Behavioral Health Counseling (BHC), offered by the College of Nursing and Health Professions, began in 1996. More recently, the department has also added minors in Addictions Counseling and Psychiatric Rehabilitation for students in other majors who have an interest in either of these two areas. BHC’s primary objective is to develop behavioral health care pre-professionals who use evidence-based clinical skills to promote the recovery of persons with psychiatric and substance use disorders. BHC graduates are also exceptionally well-equipped to enter graduate studies in counseling, social work, and other related areas. Comer is both an associate clinical professor and the BHC Department Chair.