The Texas A&M Telebehavioral Care program has long been a point of pride for the College of Education and Human Development’s Department of Educational Psychology. Originally known as the Telepsychology Counseling Clinic, it was founded in 2008 by Dr. Tim Elliott, a distinguished professor in the college’s Department of Educational Psychology, in collaboration with the Center for Community Health Development at the School of Public Health and the Texas A&M Health Science Center.
Telebehavioral Care provides teens, adults and couples in the state’s remote rural communities with psychological services using videoconferencing technology, enabling patients to access mental health care providers through their phones, mobile tablets or resource hubs in their areas.
While the concept may now seem commonplace, such was not the case when Elliott and his team opened their first remote site in Leon County 13 years ago. Still, communities embraced the offering, and today the program serves 10 counties across Texas, delivering psychological services to remote locations where no practicing psychiatrists or psychologists may be found.
Now, a fundraising effort is underway to simultaneously honor Elliott for his notable academic and professional achievements and for his foresight and dedication to the initiative. Through the establishment of a scholarship endowment that will be named in his honor, graduate students pursuing degrees in counseling psychology will be supported for generations to come.
The Shared Vision
Elliott has long been a passionate advocate for providing mental health services via video and teleconferencing. A widely respected counseling psychologist and world-renowned expert in rehabilitation psychology, he launched his first program to provide mental health services to disabled individuals and their families via videoconferencing at the University of Alabama-Birmingham in 1998.
When interviewing for a position at Texas A&M in 2006, Elliott spoke with public health colleagues Dr. James Burdine and Dr. Ken McLeroy about expanding his scope to provide mental health services to people in general. The idea was met with enthusiasm. “They wanted a colleague who would collaborate with them in developing and managing telepsychology services to rural counties in the Brazos Valley,” he recalled. “They knew the need existed and shared my vision.”
Elliott and his colleagues opened their first telehealth sites in Centerville and Madisonville, staffing them with graduate students who served as counselors and coordinators. Elliott supervised the initiative while also maintaining his duties as a researcher, full-time faculty member and active contributor to various professional organizations.
In 2013, he stepped back from the director’s position, appointing program graduate Dr. Carly McCord ’13 to the role. “I always knew that if the program took off, I would have to make tough choices about how to move forward, as there simply weren’t enough hours in the day for me to continue meeting all my obligations,” he recalled. “After Carly entered our program, it quickly became apparent that she had a knack for working with people in the community, was comfortable with the technology, and had managerial and leadership skills, so I was delighted that she agreed to step into the director’s role.”
A One-Two Punch
As he reflects on the growth of the counseling psychology program and Telebehavioral Care during his tenure, Elliott is heartened by all that has been accomplished. He estimates that well over 100 doctoral students have completed the program, 30 of whom he personally advised. He also notes that, to the best of his knowledge, Texas A&M remains the only accredited program in the nation that staffs and manages a telepsychology clinic.
He’s equally delighted by the opportunities the new endowed award represents.
“Scholarships are so important. Even with a graduate assistantship, pursuing a degree in counseling psychology is expensive.” Yet the work these students do is invaluable. “Untreated mental health problems drain community resources, both financially and emotionally,” he explained. “When people don’t have the life skills to deal with their problems, the entire community bears the cost. But by offering mental health services to those in need, we realize a beneficial effect on underserved communities, which in turn yields benefits to families and institutions within the community.”
Despite the successes of the graduate degree program and Telebehavioral Care, Elliott is reluctant to assume credit. “I didn’t dream this up—my research led me to this point,” he said. “I met some great people at Texas A&M, and we all got together in the same room and off it went.”
Dr. Charles Ridley, a colleague in the College of Education and Human Development, is not surprised by his friend’s modesty. “Our counseling psychology program is exceptional, and it has developed under Tim’s exemplary leadership,” he said. “He has raised a great deal of money in awards for the program and mentored many graduate students—both nationally and internationally—who are now academics, researchers and clinicians in the field. On every possible metric one can think of, Tim excels. But he’s a humble gentleman, so you would never hear it from his mouth.”
It was Ridley who conceived of creating the $100,000 endowed scholarship in Elliott’s name, which he hopes serves as recognition of Elliott’s broader academic, research and professional career achievements. “If we are successful in funding this endowment, there will be a generation of counseling psychologists in training who will reap the benefits in Tim’s honor, and that’s why I proposed it,” he said. “This award is a perfect way to honor him before his retirement.”
McCord agreed. “Every day at Telebehavioral Care, lives are being saved and models are evolving to change the landscape of mental health care,” she added. But those changes come at a cost. Doctoral students in counseling psychology incur significant expenses beyond those of students in most other doctoral programs in the college through fees with professional liability insurance, software packages to track clinical hours, internship applications and credit hours, and student membership dues. “Psychology training is expensive and there’s a shortage of funding available for doctoral students, so support is critical. They’re our future, and if we can’t fund them, they won’t come.”
The scholarship packs a powerful, one-two punch, McCord noted, affording members of the Texas A&M community an excellent opportunity to support the next generation of mental health professionals while simultaneously honoring the individual who has done so much to shape the university’s illustrious program.
“Tim Elliott is an innovative, collaborative professional and one of the most brilliant, hardest working, selfless individuals I have ever met,” she concluded. “He has dedicated his entire career to decreasing treatment disparities and improving public access to mental health care, and he’s incredibly devoted to his students. Securing his legacy of platinum level care for students is definitely a cause worthy of contribution.”
To contribute to the Dr. Timothy R. Elliott Counseling Psychology Student Assistance Fund, please contact Jody Ford ’99, senior director of development, at (979) 847-8655 or by submitting a message using the form below.