Norma Guerra
Elaine Wittenberg-Lyles
Norma Guerra (top) and
Elaine Wittenberg-Lyles

Faculty receive mental health research awards

By Chris Johnson
UTSA Culture and Policy Institute

(July 17, 2006)--Norma Guerra, UTSA assistant professor and program coordinator in the Department of Counseling and Educational Psychology, and Elaine Wittenberg-Lyles, UTSA assistant professor in the Department of Communication, were selected as the 2006 recipients of the South Texas Initiative for Mental Health Research (STIMHR) Summer Faculty Research Awards.

The research awards program helps faculty members develop competitive grant proposals to enrich mental-health research.

Among the selection criteria for the awards are the potential for studies to benefit the broad Hispanic population in South Texas, a strong theoretical framework and the potential for the project to secure future external funding.

Guerra's proposed project, "Assessing Engagement Styles: LIBRE Model Development," will focus on advancing counselor-client communication. The LIBRE model is an emerging, cognitively based approach consisting of problem-solving training, practice and dialogue to efficiently resolve client complaints.

As part of the protocol, the clinician uses various communication styles to understand how a client will manage stress and their challenges and willingness to resolve the problem through a course of action the client proposes.

"LIBRE" represents the steps to the approach: L = listening to identifying the client's narrative, I = identifying the client's primary area of concern, B = brainstorming options to resolve the identified concern, R = reality testing of the options, E = encouragement in the development of an action plan skills. The model has shown preliminary effectiveness among low-income public housing, rural community, and undergraduate and graduate Hispanics and non-Hispanics.

By examining cross-cultural sensitivity in counseling sessions with its implications for access among Hispanics in further developing and refining the therapeutic framework, Guerra's study seeks to provide insight into the viability of the LIBRE model as a culturally appropriate intervention and assessment tool for counselors to use in problem resolution while communicating value and respect to the client in a safe, comfortable setting.

The project will assess receptivity to, client satisfaction and engagement in the counseling experience based on the LIBRE model during ethnically matched and cross-matched counselor-client dialogues.

Guerra will explore potential contributions and applications to benefit counseling centers and counselor training programs.

Health communication also is a research focus for Wittenberg-Lyles, who has conducted a variety of studies exploring interpersonal processes taking place in the context of death and dying in hospices. In line with this research, her proposed project, "Competently Communicating Bereavement: The Roles of Culture and Patient Location on Caregiver Impact," will examine the development of successful, culturally competent bereavement interventions among Hispanic caregivers.

Because the loss of a loved one often causes considerable and sometimes overwhelming psychological and social distress and since grieving processes and perceptions of death may be functions of socio-cultural beliefs, the goal of Wittenberg-Lyles' pilot study is to formulate culturally sensitive coping interventions among Hispanics in managing caregiver grief and decrease the mental-health burdens among many families.

According to Wittenberg-Lyles, attending to cultural competency, which recognizes the importance of culture and intercultural relations in tailoring service needs in health communication and, in the case of end-of-life care, making assessments and placement recommendations. In order to increase cultural competency, it is important to develop more effective caregiver mental-health and bereavement interventions that integrate these factors.

UTSA faculty members involved in mental-health research or who are planning to pursue the research are invited each year to apply for STIMHR research awards. The awards provide summer salary for one month and one course release in the fall semester. Award recipients then submit grant proposals to an extramural funding agency for funding of at least $50,000 per year.

For more information, visit the STIMHR Web site or call (210) 458-6449.

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