Counseling Professor Honored for Adolescent Mental Health Research

Rick Balkin wins prestigious award from American Counseling Association

Rick Balkin

OXFORD, Miss. – Rick Balkin, a University of Mississippi professor of counselor education, has been named the winner of the American Counseling Association’s 2019 Extended Research Award for his work in mental health care for adolescents in crisis.

The ACA’s Extended Research Award honors counseling research that spans 10 years or more. Balkin was honored March 30 at the ACA’s 2019 Conference & Expo in New Orleans.

The Ole Miss professor has been short-listed for the highly competitive nationwide honor twice in recent years.

“My research on crisis care for adolescents extends over 10 years, with the first publication being my dissertation in 2003,” explained Balkin, who has published more than 80 papers in his academic career. “Adolescents can fall through the cracks a lot, and, we tend to use what’s been called a ‘patch and dismiss’ approach, where kids get hospitalized for severe problems and then they are discharged with very little follow-up, which means they may return to their high-risk behaviors.”

High-risk behaviors can include sexual activity, substance abuse, violence and mental health issues, which can increase suicide risk.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that while some behaviors, such as adolescent sexual activity and drug use, are observed to be decreasing in recent years, high-risk mental health issues continue to rise. A 2017 CDC study found an increase in persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness and other behaviors that put teenagers at increased risk of suicide.

“Developing strategies to treat short-term crisis situations and evaluate effectiveness of interventions and getting a commitment to follow-up is essential in helping adolescents with mental health issues,” Balkin said.

Balkin’s work is considered highly influential in the field of adolescents in crisis and has resulted in more than 18 individual publications and more than 100 citations in counseling, medical and social work textbooks or journal articles.

“We are extremely proud to have Dr. Balkin as a senior faculty member and researcher in the School of Education at the University of Mississippi,” said David Rock, UM dean of education. “More importantly, we are honored to call Dr. Balkin a colleague.

“His work with at-risk adolescents is a testament to his commitment to helping our nation’s children and passion as a researcher for making a difference.”

Before entering academia, Balkin served as a mental health clinician in both school and hospital settings for more than seven years. Much of his research is inspired by his experiences as a counselor.

Most notably, Balkin is known for the development of the Crisis Stabilization Scale, which was published in 2014 and is used by counselors to help evaluate the severity of condition for adolescent patients facing mental health issues. It has been adopted by two hospital systems.

The scale is used by therapists to evaluate patients with 25 different criteria – such as coping skills and commitment to follow-up – and provides a measure for determining the stability of patients in crisis.

“Kids who are in crisis have similar goals even though their problems may vary,” Balkin said. “Some kids are depressed. Some may be abusing drugs or alcohol. Some kids engage in dangerous, antisocial behavior. Some are suicidal. So I when was working with kids, I found that regardless of the problem there is a similar process.

“You have to get kids to a point where they can commit to safety, which means they aren’t going to hurt themselves and others. The second thing is to identify the problems which got them to this point so you can help them learn how to deal with them better.”

Balkin also has mentored two doctoral students who completed counseling dissertations using the scale. He uses the instrument in his teaching at UM, where he coordinates the university’s doctoral program in counselor education and has helped advise and/or mentor graduate students and counselors working at the UM Clinic for Outreach and Personal Enrichment.

At COPE, Ole Miss faculty and graduate students provide mental health care for the LOU community.

One goal of the scale is to help mental health practitioners make better decisions and advocate for the long-term wellness of patients, including a commitment to follow-up between patients and clinicians, Balkin said.

“When (adolescents) are in crisis and in a hospital, this is beginning of their counseling, not the end,” he said. “You are going to need some follow-up after.”

A national certified counselor, Balkin is a licensed mental health counselor in Mississippi and has also held licenses in Kentucky and Texas. He is also an ACA fellow and serves as editor of the Journal of Counseling & Development.

Balkin has taught at multiple universities, including the University of Louisville, Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi, Texas A&M University at Commerce and the University of Arkansas. He holds a doctorate in counselor education from the University of Arkansas, and master’s and bachelor’s degrees from the University of Missouri.

About Andrew M. Abernathy