For Noelle Lefforge, providing affordable, evidence-based mental health care to patients at The PRACTICE: A UNLV Community Mental Health Training Clinic is as important as offering the highest quality training to graduate students in clinical psychology, clinical mental health counseling, school psychology, and other related disciplines. Both are central to the clinic’s mission.
But this assistant director of clinical services and research, along with the leadership team at The PRACTICE, saw potential for the clinic to strengthen connection with the community. Her vision for and implementation of this potential resulted in her winning the 2018 UNLV Community Engagement Award for Service Learning.
Lefforge helped establish and expand two partnerships with local community nonprofits — Community in Schools of Nevada (CIS) and Volunteers in Medicine of Southern Nevada (VMSN) — to extend the reach of the clinic in innovative ways.
Through its partnership with CIS, the clinic began offering a telemental health clinic for Nevada youth. The telemental health clinic allows UNLV trainees, supervised by licensed mental health professionals, to provide clinical services to students in rural northeastern Nevada who otherwise would not have access to such services.
Through the partnership with VMSN, The PRACTICE developed and implemented a group psychotherapy program for Spanish-speaking patients with chronic illnesses at a community clinic. This program teaches strategies for managing symptoms, living a healthier life, talking to loved ones about health, communicating effectively with health providers, and achieving emotional, psychological, and social well-being.
Both partnerships are pursued in conjunction with a service-learning course taught by Lefforge, who is also an assistant professor-in-residence with the UNLV psychology department.
“These service-learning projects are win-win situations," Lefforge said. "The community is better served, and training of UNLV’s students is enhanced.”
She added that The PRACTICE, which stands for “Partnership for Research, Assessment, Counseling, Therapy and Innovative Clinical Education,” is well-suited to help engage with and solve this community challenge.
“By partnering with Community in Schools of Nevada and Volunteers in Medicine of Southern Nevada, UNLV students are able to get real-life experience while providing much-needed services in the community,” she said, adding that the state of Nevada has one of the highest prevalence rates of serious mental and behavioral health challenges in the nation.
Sarah Goicoechea, the executive director of Communities in Schools, supported Lefforge’s nomination for the award.
“Our partnership with The PRACTICE is crucial,” said Goicoechea. “We have found that the clinicians and faculty at UNLV operate with a high level of professionalism and integrity. Our work together has overcome many barriers, and together we have found many solutions to the unique challenges faced by rural areas.”
Tabitha Peterson, social and behavioral health services director at VMSN, also offered her support of Lefforge and the clinic.
“We deeply relate to The PRACTICE’s mission to provide affordable, evidence-based care to the community and quality training to students,” she said. “Because of this, VMSN has worked collaboratively with The PRACTICE for the past two years to meet a critical need in our community.”
Lefforge accepted her award in April at the university’s Academic Achievement Awards Ceremony.
The UNLV office of community engagement established four universitywide awards in 2016 to recognize campus individuals for their exceptional community engagement in the areas of service learning, community-based research, faculty/staff community outreach activity, and student service.