Behavioral Health News | Volume 9, Issue 1
Behavioral Health News

Former Emergency Department space to be transformed into calming Emergency Psychiatric Assessment Treatment and Healing units

For over a decade, we have been experiencing an ever-growing mental health crisis. Currently, 1 in 5 US residents live with a mental health disorder and less than half of these individuals receive adequate mental health care. This trend has taxed a limited number of behavioral health services/resources and has resulted in individuals not receiving timely or appropriate care. This trend has also led numerous psychiatric professional organizations and hospital associations across the country to declare a national mental health emergency. 

One important characteristic of this crisis is the overutilization of Emergency Departments (EDs) to serve as both an emergency resource as well as the front door to all behavioral health services. As such, over the last 7 years there has been a five-fold increase in the number of patients admitted to emergency departments for mental health disorders. In California alone, there is an average of 2,143,614 mental health ED visits annually and anywhere from 13-15% of all ED visits nationwide are mental health admissions in nature. The growing need for emergency psychiatric care has resulted in multiple struggles for hospitals and patients. These include extending the patient’s length of time of care, the ED’s inability to meet the mental health needs of the patient, ED environments increasing the patient’s level of stress leading to a higher need for restraints, patients feeling like a burden to the hospital, and health inequities. Furthermore, EDs are increasingly meeting this challenge with a practice known as boarding, which the Joint Commission (accrediting body for hospitals) suggests leads to lower quality care and ultimately worsens ED crowding.

Read more from Dr. Brian Distelberg

Community Engagement

Introduction to Behavioral Health

This past summer, SBH offered a free undergraduate course to recent high school graduates. The 2-unit in-person course, PSYC 204 Introduction to Behavioral Health, was designed to help students just entering college understand how behavioral health professionals work in healthcare settings, and what careers in behavioral health are like. The course instructors were Dr. Kenny Boyd, Dr. Kelly Baek, and Dr. Monique Willis, who introduced their respective professions and their typical roles and activities. Ten students took the course, many with an interest in healthcare and subsequently becoming more interested in behavioral health.

Learn more about this annual summer program

Research and Grants

Schools of Behavioral Health and Pharmacy receive $750,000 grant to pilot HIV prevention program

Principle research investigator Oleksandr Dubov, PhD, associate professor at LLU School of Behavioral Health, said the new program is a research partnership with Inland Empire Health Plan, UCLA Center for HIV Identification, Prevention, and Treatment Services (CHIPTS), and six local community pharmacies.

"Together, we will identify pharmacy-based HIV prevention strategies and relevant wraparound services to aid those living in local, low-income, and medically underserved areas,” Dubov said.

Read more

Loma Linda University receives $1.5 million federal grant to house HIV prevention and care program in Emergency Department

The five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will provide HIV and Hepatitis C Virus testing in the LLUMC Emergency Department (ED) and improve linkage to prevention services and care among racial and ethnic minority populations at high risk for Substance Use Disorders (SUDs) and HIV infection.

Read more

Dr. Aarti Nair receives $60,000 grant to study auditory processing disorder

Congratulations to Dr. Aarti Nair, who this past summer received a $60,000 grant to conduct a study examining the connection between sleep, central auditory processing disorder (CAPD), and autism.

Read more

Student Scoop

SBH graduates 116 students during Commencement weekend

Commencement 2023 marked a momentous occasion as SBH students, families, faculty, and staff united in celebration. This year, 116 students achieved their goal of earning their master's or doctoral degrees. Their work will take them to diverse national and international locales, where they will serve as healers of often invisible wounds through research, teaching, and clinical work. Heartfelt congratulations to each of our 2023 graduates—we cannot wait to see what they do next!

Dr. Winetta Oloo, Associate Dean for Academic and Student Affairs

View more photos from our 2023 Commencement weekend

Counseling MS and MFT MS dual degree program graduates first two students

Nigar ("Nikky") Eminzade and Allison (Samp) Kasbon both earned Master of Science degrees in Counseling and Marital and Family Therapy in addition to professional certificates. Nikky completed a certificate in Drug and Alcohol Counseling. Ally completed her certificate in School Counseling, which leads to a Pupil Personnel ervices (PPS) credential through the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC).

Read more about these students and their academic journeys

Fall Orientation and the Welcome Back Bash kick off the 2023-24 academic year

The start of another academic year has brought an abundance of excitement, especially on orientation day, where we enthusiastically welcomed our new students! The day went beyond introducing them to their programs and the School; it was a dedicated effort to foster connections and a sense of belonging. A standout moment was an interactive activity designed to build community. Students were engaged, formed connections with their peers, and were reminded that their distinctiveness adds incredible depth to the diverse composition of SBH.

Dr. Winetta Oloo, Associate Dean for Academic and Student Affairs

Religious and spiritual competencies developed for SBH clinical trainees

Our goal with these competencies is that LLU SBH-trained clinicians are spiritually sensitive professionals who intuitively understand the larger context behind presenting problems and can flexibly integrate religion and spirituality into treatment in beneficial ways.

Read more from Dr. Kenny Boyd

Psychology department holds annual Diversity Potluck

A now-annual event, the Psychology department had a wonderful time this fall celebrating diversity with delicious foods and wonderful company.

View more photos

Alumni Alcove

2023 Behavioral Health alumni magazine coming soon!

Keep an eye out for the 2023 issue of our alumni magazine, coming early this year. In the meantime, if you haven't done so recently, please update your contact information with us here.

Psychology alumni reconnect in Redlands

Last month, a few of our Psychology alumni had a blast reconnecting at The State in Redlands. Keep an eye on your email for future invites. Your dedication to making a difference makes us proud every day!

Awards and Accomplishments

Western Psychological Association (WPA) 2023 Student Awards

Clinical Psychology PhD student Rosalva Mejia was the 2023 recipient of the Dr. Steven Underleider Graduate Research Award from the Western Psychological Association for her and her lab mates' paper presentation, "Religious Coping as a Moderator of the ACEs and Negative Marital Quality Relationship." This award is given for outstanding research conducted by a graduate student who is first author on their paper and their abstract received the top rating by three blinded reviewers. Therefore, Rosalva's abstract was in the top 2% of all the abstracts submitted to WPA last year!

Rosalva was also recently added to the Western Psychological Association Student Council for 2023-24. In this capacity she will represent the Council on the Loma Linda University campus.

Clinical Psychology PhD student Daniel Franz won a 2023 Travel Award from the Western Psychological Association for his presentation entitled "Metabolic Predictors of Inflammation Over Time in Schizophrenia." This award is given for outstanding research conducted by a student. His abstract received the top rating by three blind reviewers – and was in the top 2% of the over 1200 submissions to WPA!

Clinical Psychology PhD student Kiyana Eshai won a 2023 Travel Award from the Western Psychological Association for her presentation entitled "Adverse Childhood Experiences and Comorbid Illness: Mediation by Dietary Polyphenol Intake." WPA Travel Awards are given for outstanding research conducted by a student. This project received one of 24 student awards given last year, out of 1200 submissions.

Clinical Psychology PhD student Eboni Martin Jones receives APA Interdisciplinary Minority Fellowship

This past summer, Eboni Martin Jones, Clinical Psychology PhD student, accepted the American Psychological Association (APA) Interdisciplinary Minority Fellowship (IMFP)! This fellowship provides a one-year stipend in addition to training, professional development, mentoring, and lifetime access to the APA network of Fellows.

Read more on our blog

Eboni was also recently elected from a group of national candidates to serve as a 2024-2025 Student Representative to APA Division 45, the Society for the Psychological Study of Culture, Ethnicity, and Race.

Read more on Facebook

PhD student Sarah Beaver attends summer Critical Language Program in Jordan

"One of the most impactful classes from my Systems, Families, and Couples PhD program focused on Family Systems and Global Humanitarian Mental Health," writes Sarah. "While I was in that class, I felt God giving me a calling to Palestinian-Americans and Palestinians. This was surprising to experience as I had not previously had much interaction with Arab cultures. But it was also one of the most exquisitely beautiful surprises that God has kept in store for me in my life."

Read more about Sarah's trip on our blog

Faculty Updates

Congratulations to Dr. Hector Betancourt, Distinguished Professor in our Department of Psychology, for being recognized with the 2024 American Psychological Association's Award for Distinguished Contributions to the International Advancement of Psychology!

Per APA, "This award recognizes distinguished and enduring lifetime contributions to international cooperation among global psychologists and to the advancement of knowledge and applications of psychological science beyond the borders of the United States."

Read more about this prestigious award

Congratulations to Professor of Psychology Dr. Bridgette Peteet for receiving the prestigious Black Alumni of Loma Linda (BALL) DEI Award! Her dedication to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in her workplace and community is truly inspiring. We are proud to have her as part of our team.

Dr. Peteet is the Principal Investigator (PI) for a $3 million HRSA Scholarships for Disadvantaged Students grant and the Co-PI on a Graduate Psychology Education grant to provide specialized training in SUDs and to build pathways to diversify the scientific workforce.

Read more on Facebook

Dr. Cameron Neece, Professor of Psychology, has been chosen by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to be a standing member of the Child Psychopathology and Developmental Disabilities (CPDD) Study Section.

For the next 4 years she will attend 3 meetings per year at NIH where she will review grants. Standing members of study sections are recommended by NIH staff based on their funding and publication record and their contribution to science in a given field.

Read more on Facebook

New Faculty

Dr. Elizabeth James

Dr. Elizabeth James's clinical interests include the facilitation of prenatal fetal bonding and relational connectedness, the assessment and application of early intervention in the treatment of neurological and developmental disorders within a family system, and fostering a therapeutic environment based on systemic, narrative, and attachment theoretical frameworks.

Read more about Dr. James

Dr. Chyrene Cutting

Dr. Chyrene Cutting’s research interests include spirituality, therapy with couples, MENA populations, and culture bound trauma. Dr. Cutting is passionate about giving back to her community of Iranian Americans. She is a Champion Member of the Iranian American Women Foundation and serves as a professional mentor within their Mentorship to Internship Program.

Read more about Dr. Cutting

New Staff

As an Adjunct Professor at Loma Linda University, Dr. Robynn Mays has imparted her knowledge to the next generation of social work professionals through supervision and mentorship of our students. Her extensive clinical experience spans from conducting psychosocial assessments to developing comprehensive care plans for children, families, and adults. She excels in collaborative work within multidisciplinary teams, a skill set that will prove invaluable in her new role.

Read more about Dr. Mays

Monica Pacheco, new Sr. Administrative Assistant in the Department of Social Work and Social Ecology, comes with 13 years of experience from the School of Dentistry and will be providing invaluable assistance to our doctoral and MSW programs. Monica is a devoted spouse and loving mother to six children, who loves family gatherings, camping trips, and collecting pictures in her free time. Given her warm personality and experience, we are confident she will play an important role in furthering our organization's mission and success.

Nancy Razo started working with the Department of Counseling and Family Sciences in a temporary administrative assistant position in September 2022 and moved to a full time position in January 2023. She comes to Loma Linda University with four years of experience working as an administrative assistant in university graduate programs. In her spare time, Nancy enjoys amusement parks, visiting her sister in San Diego, going to the gym, and walking her dog Loki, a chihuahua poodle mix.

Liz Sundstrom joined the School of Behavioral Health Dean's Office in December 2023 to monitor, track, and manage academic records, including student processes, forms, and degree progress. With her extensive experience, including many years working for the County of San Bernardino, Liz brings valuable skills to the team. As a mom of four, she admits she can't live without her coffee.

Announcements and Updates

The School of Behavioral Health is offering several online continuing education courses this year for alumni, free of charge. We're also hosting an Alumni Walk for Student Food Security. There are numerous exciting campus-wide events also being planned, so check out the schedule! We'd love to see you there.

Learn more and register

Join SBH for our 2024 Biopsychosocial-Spiritual Research Conference!

This year's keynote, "LGBTQ+ Religious/Spiritual Stress-Trauma, and the Complex Beauty of LGBTQ+ Faith," will be presented by Rev. Cody J. Sanders, PhD, Associate Professor of Congregational & Community Care Leadership at Luther Seminary.

The conference will also include a panel discussion and a research poster session.

Join us either in person or online on April 12, 2024 from 9 AM - 12 PM. There is no charge for this conference, which this year is co-sponsored by the LLU Center for Christian Bioethics.

Learn more and register

On Sunday, April 28, 2024 from 9 AM - 2 PM, the Counseling and Family Sciences department will gather together with alumni, students, faculty, and staff to celebrate this amazing milestone! Join us on campus at Centennial Complex or online. Lunch and CEUs will be provided.

To attend in-person: RSVP here by 4/8/24

To attend online: RSVP here any time

In Memoriam: Terrence J. Forrester, LCSW

It is with deep sadness that we bid farewell to our dear colleague, friend, and esteemed professor emeritus of the Loma Linda University School of Behavioral Health, Terrence J. Forrester, LCSW.

Terry's presence among us was truly extraordinary, embodying the core values of the social work profession, particularly his unwavering dedication to social justice. Throughout a remarkable career spanning five decades, Terry made significant contributions to the field of behavioral health.

His expertise extended beyond the boundaries of academia, encompassing numerous practice areas such as child welfare, juvenile justice, residential and in-patient psychiatric care. He tirelessly devoted himself to fostering the growth and excellence of his students, investing countless hours in supervising and guiding aspiring clinicians.

The impact of his boundless generosity, wisdom, and unwavering compassion will forever reside in our hearts. Rest well, dear friend.

SBH Christmas Party

In December, SBH students, faculty, and staff joined together to celebrate the season in Griggs Hall. With delicious food, hot drinks, an ugly sweater contest, and a cozy atmosphere, this gathering warmed our hearts.

SBH Arcade Party

Alumni, students, faculty, and staff across SBH were invited out to Calimesa's Retrovolt Arcade this month for unlimited free play, pizza, dessert, and door prizes. Everyone who braved the weather and came out had a great time!

Meet Michela Sands, MPA, Development Officer for SBH

"I reside in the Coachella Valley where my husband and I have raised our three sons. I have been blessed to be part of the behavioral health industry, where I worked at Betty Ford Center for several years, as well as a mental health facility in Orange County. Now as a member of the Loma Linda University Health (LLUH) team, I'm thrilled to be supporting the students, faculty, and staff at the School of Behavioral Health through philanthropy!"

Read more on Facebook

Announcing the SBH Writing Center!

We are delighted to announce that there is now an online Writing Center available to support all students in the School of Behavioral Health. The SBH Writing Center is staffed by doctoral assistants who are excited to meet with students via zoom weekly to provide writing coaching and feedback.

The Writing Center initially began in the Counseling and Family Sciences Department and has become an integral resource for students, equipping them to improve their understanding of academic writing standards and APA style, and therefore, to generally improve their scores on assignments.

We are pleased to extend this resource to all students in SBH and will be adding more doctoral assistants to our schedule soon in order to meet students' needs. There are also helpful writing resources in the SBH Writing Center canvas course for students to check out at any time.

For any questions regarding the Writing Center, please contact SBH Writing Center Coordinator Sarah Beaver at [email protected].

Students for International Mission Service

SIMS Spotlight: Clinical Psychology PhD student Rosie Mejia in Thailand

"Through dancing, singing, playing, and praying together," writes Rosalva, "I truly think that I learned more from the Thai children and locals than they did from our SIMS Thailand Team. Their deep devotion to social connection, sincere gratitude for the smallest of acts, and cheerful smiles taught me how little is needed to experience joy."

Read more about Rosie's experience

Upcoming SIMS Trips

  • Guatemala: March 15-24
  • Guatemala: June 17-28
  • Belize: July 22-August 1
  • Brazil: August 5-18
  • Honduras: September 20-30
  • Thailand: December 20-31
Global Practice Scholarship

All accepted students receive up to $1,000 toward a School of Behavioral Health global practice international trip. Students are eligible for one School of Behavioral Health Global Practice Scholarship while enrolled in the School. Students may contact their department for more details.

Resource Rcommendations

This issue's recommendations are from our newest faculty and staff!

My Group Guide is a great resource to help clinicians who run therapy groups navigate certain topics in their sessions.

It contains group worksheets, handouts, group activities, assessment tools and more for children, adolescents, and adults.

A few topics of the topics discussed are CBT & DBT Skills, Anger Management, Substance Use, & Trauma.

—Dr. Robynn Mays

Strong like Water: Finding the Freedom, Safety, and Compassion to Move through Hard Things—and Experience True Flourishing discusses the healing power of love, faith, and wholeness in trauma recovery. The author invites readers to reconceptualize strength as a sacred ebb and flow of tender resilience.

—Dr. Chyrene Cutting

The AAMFT Podcast provides listeners with a dynamic exploration of topics related to systemic therapy. Dr. Eli Karam hosts an expert interview with relationship-based therapists in the field.

Each episode features an engaging conversation – delivering valuable insights and emerging trends while keeping professionals informed and educated.

—Dr. Elizabeth James

LLU School of Behavioral Health

[email protected] |

Our mission is to provide a spiritually supportive context for teaching, clinical practice, and research innovation that pursues integrative behavioral health aimed at reducing health disparities and promoting social justice in a global context locally and globally.


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