Better Together: Behavioral Health Service Corps.℠ Partners with Eliot Community Human Services to Provide College Graduates Paid, Hands-On Experience

carolina jaldin

Carolina Jaldin, BHSC Scholar

Growing up, Carolina Jaldin attributes regular exposure to behavioral health services provided through her school as instrumental in processing some of the trauma she grew up with. “I can't imagine what my childhood would have looked like without the tools to comprehend all of what I was feeling,” says Jaldin, a second-generation immigrant, who was raised by a single mother from Brazil. “She did a beautiful job considering the cards she was dealt,” says Jaldin of social barriers—from prejudice and stereotypes to lack of cultural understanding—at every turn. “My values were defined by the immigrant community in which I was raised,” says Jaldin who identifies as both Hispanic and Latina (her late father was born in Bolivia), communities in which a stigma surrounding mental health lingers. Last spring, after earning her BS in psychology from UMass Amherst, the first-generation college student was inspired to learn more about the field of behavioral healthcare while gaining hands-on experience—hallmarks of the Behavioral Health Service Corps.℠ (BHSC) at William James College. In August, she began a paid, year-long service and learning opportunity at Eliot Community Human Services in Lexington—the newest BHSC agency partner—an instrumental player in the recruiting, mentoring, and training of culturally and linguistically diverse behavioral health workers like Jaldin, who are historically underrepresented in the field.

“Eliot has been in the community for quite some time, and their mission—to serve underserved populations—aligns with our mission here at William James College and the Center for Workforce Development,” says Marc Abelard, MEd, Director of Behavioral Health Service Corps. Each year, Eliot meets more than 50,000 individuals and families throughout Massachusetts where they are via community-based clinics. Services are delivered via state-of-the-art, evidence-based programming aimed at reaching some of the region’s most vulnerable and underserved populations, including those individuals with complex care needs that include behavioral health services.

“Their scope of practice; competitive salary and good benefits; coupled with practitioners willing to provide clinical supervision for our students make Eliot a good fit for our program,” says Abelard, underscoring that—since its inception in 2020—BHSC has established partnerships with more than a dozen behavioral health agencies in the surrounding community.

“The goal of the program is to attract new talent to the field and place them in community-based mental health organizations,” says Abelard. The approach boasts reciprocal benefits for agencies having a hard time retaining entry-level talent and college graduates keen on exploring their options while earning a living in the process. 

“I lost a little bit of hope at the end of my undergraduate career,” says Jaldin, an advocate for alternative behavioral health interventions who struggled to see herself delivering therapy via the cookie-cutter model. She credits being connected to Abelard (via a professor and mutual acquaintance) as opening a door she didn't know existed. Yearning for a holistic therapy placement but lacking in clinical experience, Jaldin pursued a case manager position at Eliot—one of the job opportunities available through the Behavioral Health Services Corps℠. As to her why? 

“I have seen first-hand how interventions from behavioral health professionals can impact and change outcomes,” she explains, expounding upon her preference for a holistic approach. “This method understands that the external aspects of our client's lives—from food insecurity and housing to substance use and immigration status—contribute to their mental well-being and recognizes the importance of addressing these external concerns within one's treatment plan,” says Jaldin. This approach, coupled with community-based services which clients are neither expected to take off work nor pay out-of-pocket in order to receive, not only enhance one another but also make receiving services more accessible.

At Eliot, Jaldin coordinates comprehensive recovery and rehabilitative services to clients participating in the Program for Assertive Community Treatment (PACT). This career experience, coupled with academic credits towards a master's degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, positions BHSC Scholars like Jaldin to pursue any number of paths in behavioral healthcare—from earning a graduate degree to remaining in the field and providing direct services or some combination of the two.

“I chose this field, and this program specifically, in order to give back to the community I come from,” says Jaldin, who speaks Portuguese and was raised in the greater Boston area. Her lived experience has led to an understanding of two very important things: First, in diverse communities that stigmatize seeking mental health services, it often takes a tangible diagnosis (like substance use disorder) for individuals to get the help they need; second, representation matters. Nationwide, nearly ninety percent of behavioral health professionals are non-Latino Caucasian, which BHSC hopes to remedy. 

“We seek to provide training, mentorship, and career opportunities to students who might not have them otherwise,” says Abelard in a nod to ethnic, linguistic, racial, religious, or sexual minority groups; first-generation college students; individuals with disabilities; and military/veteran personnel. “The same individuals are on both sides of the coin,” says Abelard, acknowledging that the very groups underrepresented in the field are those most likely to experience barriers to accessing behavioral health services.

“The real issue is one of access, meeting folks where they are,” says Abelard, emphasizing that issues surrounding mental health and substance use are ever present among underserved populations, as are ongoing barriers to accessing culturally competent and quality behavioral healthcare services. A dearth of providers accepting new clients is just one obstacle. Some individuals are unable to physically get to the site offering the care they need; others lack the necessary identification to access care. “If those clients from underserved populations had equal access, then we would see an increased number of folks from diverse backgrounds receiving care,” says Abelard.

For now, Jaldin is basking in the collaborative nature of her work at Eliot. “I wanted to interact and see how psychiatrists and clinicians navigate approaching treatment and adjusting course according to a client's needs,” she says of a placement that, to date, has surpassed her expectations. Plus, the hands-on experience is helping Jaldin to make sense of the theories she is studying and their practical applications in the real world. 

“That’s a year of academic training, a year of clinical supervision, a year of professional development, a year of mentorship, and a year of experience in the actual field,” says Abelard of the invaluable skills Jaldin and her fellow Scholars will have in their respective tool belts upon completion of the program, all of which will directly benefit their clients.

 Looking ahead, Abelard is excited by the scalability of the BHSC. “Being able to grow the program in scope and size, and making it a national model for workforce development in behavioral health, is a really exciting opportunity for William James College” Abelard says of what he calls a lifeline for college graduates seeking to get their feet wet via on-the-ground experience in the field and those preparing to apply for graduate school—a pair of paths Jaldin has navigated. 

 “I have decided to move forward with the Clinical Psychology PsyD program at William James College,” says Jaldin who has been accepted and cites ongoing support from and conversation with her BHSC faculty mentor Shani Turner, PhD, assistant professor and director of the African and Caribbean Mental Health concentration, as helping her to reach this decision. As a BHSC graduate, Jaldin—along with any Scholar admitted to a master’s or doctoral degree program at William James College—is eligible to apply for a $15,000 annual scholarship to defray the costs of tuition and fees. Regardless of the path she chooses, she remains grateful for the opportunity to serve her community and further step away from the idea that talk therapy is the only answer.

 “This program is reducing barriers and financial burdens while providing a roadmap,” Abelard says of a unique, guided opportunity for students to figure out what a career in behavioral healthcare looks like. “So they can step into the next leg of the journey with much more solid footing and an understanding of what they want to do—and how to go about doing it.”