Faculty Advocate for Behavioral Health Support Specialist Bill in Olympia

Senate Bill 5189 Passed

by Mya Brossoit

The College of Professional Programs is excited to highlight Dr. Kevin Criswell for his impressive involvement in the passing of Senate Bill 5189.

Dr. Kevin Criswell, a Bellevue-based Visiting Assistant Professor in the School of Psychology, recently worked alongside Dr. Kayleen Islam-Zwart in providing testimony on Capitol Hill in Olympia in support of passing Senate Bill 5189, which allows for the credentialing of  behavioral health support specialists.

A Behavior Health Support Specialist (BHSS) may work in positions under supervision including crisis services, integrated care, or specialty behavioral health care. The bachelor level provider works through a scope of evidence-based behavioral health interventions that is now credentialed and available in Washington State.

While testifying during the bill hearings, Dr. Kayleen Islam-Zwart and Dr. Kevin Criswell described the various benefits graduates would attain from this credential as they participate in the applied skills training at EWU for behavioral health support specialists.  Criswell also described the influential contributions this credential would provide the community as a whole:

We also testified on the benefits for the public at large to increase access to behavioral health interventions for depression, anxiety and other common behavioral health conditions.

With the increase in mental health issues and expanding need for mental health services across the state, the state credential for a BHSS introduces a creative solution for Washington state’s limited mental health workforce.

When asked about its impact on EWU’s Psychology programs, Criswell shares the increase in interest students may express in Eastern’s Psychology majors, or interest from other majors regarding health profession support. The new opportunity provides bachelor level students with a path to earn paid experience as a BHSS in the absence of doctorate or masters level clinical training programs.

EWU will continue to contribute to the work on solidifying clinical program guidelines to prepare higher education and clinical training sites statewide.

Criswell states that the new apprenticeship now opens up “alternate pathways to becoming a BHSS” that will benefit not only students, but the community as a whole. He foresees a growing number of mental health service clinics including the BHSS position as a vital part of their interdisciplinary teams in healthcare. This also would allow individuals in the BHSS position to “expand their impact on addressing their communities’ mental health service needs through focused management of mental health symptoms.”

With the help of faculty from the University of Washington, EWU has had the privilege of launching the very first Behavioral Health Support Specialist Certificate Program within the Psychology department, and d

…I hope our BHSS Certificate program can serve as a model for similar programs in our state.

The College of Professional Programs applauds Dr. Kevin Criswell and Dr. Kayleen Islam-Zwart for their work in supporting this bill and making it a reality, improving community behavioral health options, and bettering the EWU community!