Supporting Students with Psychiatric Disabilities in Postsecondary Education: Important Knowledge, Skills, and Attitudes
Citation: Kupferman, S., & Schultz, J. (2015). Supporting students with psychiatric disabilities in postsecondary education: Important knowledge, skills, and attitudes. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 28(1), 25-40.
Why Is This Study Important?
Students with psychiatric disabilities are one of the largest sub groups of college students with disabilities. Yet they withdraw from college prior to degree completion at much higher rates than students with other types of disabilities and students without disclosed disabilities. Under the broad label of “psychiatric” disabilities, students’ needs vary widely. While some disability resource offices have staff with specialized caseloads and expertise in working with students with psychiatric disabilities, the majority of disability resource offices do not. Most disability service professionals (DSPs) are part of professional teams who offer coordinated services. What are the competencies DSPs and their team partners need to provide adequate services and supports for students with psychiatric disabilities?
Scott Kupferman, from the University of Colorado, and Jared Shultz, from Utah State University, conducted a study to explore this question. They wanted to identify the knowledge, skills, and attitudes DSPs need to provide beneficial services.
Research Methods in a Nutshell
Because there was no prior research on the knowledge, skills, and attitudes required of DSPs, Kupferman and Shultz had to first develop a survey instrument. They used a method called a Delphi survey. Using this approach, they worked with two panels of experts -- one comprised of experienced DSPs, the other comprised of students with psychiatric disabilities. Based on the feedback from the two panels, they systematically identified and organized 54 competencies. The researchers then clustered the competencies into five broad areas: (1) ethical and legal considerations, (2) accommodations and supports, (3) disability aspects, (4) community resources, and (5) campus considerations. After piloting and refining the survey instrument, the authors distributed the survey to a national sample of DSPs and asked them to rate the importance of each competency on a scale of 0 (lowest) to 5 (highest).
Some Key Findings
Important competencies. One of the most important outcomes of this study was a list of competencies professionals need to support students with psychiatric disabilities. Each of the 54 competencies that made the final list received a mean rating of 3 or higher from both the expert panels and the national survey respondents. While the complete list is too long to include in this research brief, some examples include the following.
- Knowledge of disability disclosure hesitations/difficulties related to psychiatric disabilities
- Ability to assist students in determining when to disclose their psychiatric disability to faculty, staff, peers, and others
- Knowledge of natural supports for students with psychiatric disabilities
- Knowledge of universal design strategies related to students with psychiatric disabilities
- Desire to accommodate the cyclical nature of psychiatric disabilities
- Knowledge of psychiatric medication types and side effects
- Knowledge of community health resources
- Ability to conduct campus needs assessments related to improving the success of students with psychiatric disabilities
Campus differences. When the researchers looked at the demographic information of the national survey respondents, they found that respondents from community colleges gave professional competencies in the Community Resources area (e.g., knowledge of community mental health resources) higher ratings of importance than DSPs from other types of campuses.
Student perceptions. It was notable that the researchers included a panel of students with psychiatric disabilities as part of the expert Delphi survey. When they compared students’ ratings of competencies with professionals’ ratings, they found differences on four competencies.
- The ability to assist students with psychiatric disabilities develop natural supports
- The ability to assist students with psychiatric disabilities prepare for employment
- The ability to assist students with psychiatric disabilities transition into independent living settings
- The ability to implement supported education strategies for students with psychiatric disabilities
The researchers identified some possible limitations of the study including the observation that the professional competencies that were identified may not be an exhaustive list. They also noted that the student panelists may have selected competencies they desired based on their individual needs and experiences.
The outcomes of this study provide an empirically based list of the knowledge, skills, and attitudes professionals need to support college students with psychiatric disabilities. The list could be used in a number of ways depending on the scope of the individual disability resource office and the mission and structure of the campus. The competencies could be used to identify professional development and training needs for staff. They could serve as content for in-service training for large disability resource offices or provide direction in identifying available workshops at state, regional, or national conferences. The competencies could also be used by cross-campus committees charged with supporting students with mental health issues to consider broader training and awareness needs in departments and divisions across campus. State affiliate groups of DSPs could use the list of competencies to discuss campus differences and opportunities for resource sharing.
Want to Know More?
Want to access the full list of 54 competencies identified in this research? You can access the article at: https://www.ahead.org/publications/jped/vol_28/. Scroll to issue 1 and select your format of choice (pdf, Word, mp3, or Daisy).