Understanding Behavioral Health Technicians Within the Military
Oct 7, 2019
Understanding and Optimizing Their Role
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Photo by Airman 1st Class Erica Crossen/U.S. Air Force
Behavioral health technicians (BHTs) are enlisted personnel whose role is to provide supportive clinical services alongside licensed independent behavioral health providers. When integrated optimally, BHTs have the potential to increase the capacity of the military behavioral health workforce and ensure that service members have access to high-quality, efficient services.
BHTs are trained to conduct behavioral health screenings and assessments, deliver psychosocial interventions and case management services, and provide prevention and resilience services. Their specific responsibilities may depend on the nature of their assignment.
RAND aimed to help the U.S. Department of Defense better understand the roles that BHTs play and how they can better support the behavioral health of the force. RAND researchers reviewed relevant training curricula, policies, and literature to document BHTs' training and responsibilities, as well as to inform strategies to improve BHT selection, preparation, and ongoing professional development.
Photo by PStaff Sgt. Leah R. Kilpatrick/Alamy Stock Photo
Army and Air Force BHTs enter specialized training directly from basic training, and Navy BHTs enter training after initial medical training as corpsmen. All BHTs complete a nine-week consolidated curriculum at the Medical Education and Training Campus (METC), which covers foundational topics (e.g., ethics, psychopathology) and clinical skills (e.g., interviewing, psychological testing and counseling). They then complete service-specific coursework and a clinical practicum.
In total, BHT training ranges from 14 to 17 weeks, depending on the service. In this short period, instructors must cover a breadth of topics while also ensuring that BHTs receive enough depth of experience to prepare them to work in clinical settings.
Selection processes and requirements vary by service. Current selection processes may not adequately assess whether BHTs will be a good fit for the job, and it is unclear whether existing criteria are effectively screening for disqualifying factors.
Training must balance a need to cover a large number of topics with BHTs' need for clinical experience prior to starting in their new roles. Though training has didactic and practical components, instructors may vary with regard to their integration of interactive and applied exercises to demonstrate course material.
After entering the workforce, BHTs are placed in assignments in garrison or operational settings. The research suggests that BHTs do not always have the opportunity to apply the full range of their capabilities, but there is no standard set of BHT responsibilities across services and care settings.
On-the-job training and supervision are critical for BHTs to develop and maintain their skills. However, requirements vary across services, and there is not always a standard for how such training is delivered. Supervisors may be unaware of what support BHTs need to develop and maintain their skills.
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