The Interprofessional Center for Counseling & Legal Svcs: a Model of Interprofessional Collaboration

January 16, 2015 / By: Rebecca Mariscal, Class of ’15
Directors of the UST Interprofessional Center for Counseling and Legal Services
IPC directors: Virgil Wiebe, George Baboila, Patricia Stankovitch

As printed in the Winter 2015 Social Work Perspectives newsletter

Legal consultation. Case management. Clinical evaluation. Psychological assessment. All in one place.

The Interprofessional Center (IPC) on St. Thomas’ Minneapolis campus brings together the School of Social Work, School of Law and the School of Professional Psychology. The center was created eleven years ago and moved to its new location in Opus Hall in 2012. At the IPC, students from each discipline work together to help clients and further their own learning. Co-director of the IPC George Baboila of the School of Social Work, said the center has a dual purpose: “meeting the needs of the community and meeting the needs of students.”

Whitney Wessels, MSW ’14, and Skye Coughlin, BSW ’14, worked with the IPC during the 2014 spring semester. St. Thomas and St. Kate’s students have the rare opportunity to participate in interprofessional work at the center. “There are few places like this in the nation where students get to do work interprofessionally,” Coughlin said. “We have so many resources at our disposal here.”

The two social work students had different roles within the IPC. Wessels worked in clinical counseling while Coughlin worked as a generalist doing case management, but both interacted frequently with their interprofessional co-workers from the School of Law and
the School of Professional Psychology. “We share the clients,” Wessels said. “A lot of my clients are receiving some overlap of our services.”

Baboila said the IPC teaches students the skills necessary to work with different disciplines.

“It helps everybody have a clear understanding of other professions, how interprofessional collaboration works, what its purpose is, what its goals are,” Baboila said. “If we have a client, one of the important things about working interprofessionally is, it’s not my client or your client, it’s our client.”

In order for the three professions to work as one, all disciplines must be viewed as important, Baboila said.

“We all depend on each other and we all have tremendous respect for each other’s professions,” Coughlin said.

Still, each of the disciplines brings something unique to the table. Wessels said each profession will have different priorities for the clients. “I might have a very different relationship with a client than the same client would have with their case manager or their lawyer.”

These different relationships allow students to gain a better, more complete understanding of the clients, their needs and the challenges they may face. “Working in an interdisciplinary setting is a great opportunity to get a comprehensive picture of the clients that you’re working with and to really understand what they’re going through,” Wessels said.

Wessels said that the IPC also provides an opportunity to teach others more about social work, a task that can be daunting. “It requires strong understanding and confidence in what you do,” Wessels said. But bringing more recognition to the field is important. “Being a social worker, when a lot of people don’t understand what the role of social work is – especially in an interdisciplinary setting – is an opportunity for us to advocate for ourselves,” Wessels explained.

The ability to work with other professionals in the School of Law and School of Professional Psychology is the reason both these students chose the IPC. Wessels had worked in an interdisciplinary setting in a hospital, and enjoyed the shared understanding in that
experience, leading her to select the IPC. “Working with lawyers and case managers and psychologists seemed like a really good opportunity to continue that interprofessional, interdisciplinary work that I had in mind,” she said.

Coughlin, who chose the IPC to learn more about the law side of things and work with others in the legal discipline, hopes to return to the center again after she completes law school, this time working as an attorney. “Once you’re part of the IPC you’ll always be part of the IPC,” Coughlin said.

St. Kate’s – St. Thomas MSW graduates working at Assistance in Recovery (AiR)
St. Kate’s – St. Thomas MSW graduates working at Assistance in Recovery (AiR)

“I’m so proud of the caliber of people coming out of the IPC. It makes me well up with pride.”
– Jim Stolz, LICSW, founding Social Work Services Director of the IPC [2003-2005]

Jim Stolz is now a clinical supervisor with Assistance in Recovery (AiR), a national provider of services for those struggling with alcohol, drugs, eating disorders and mental health issues. It is no coincidence that the clinical social work team at AiR is largely comprised of graduates of the St. Kate’s – St. Thomas MSW program and that four of the seven did their clinical field placements at the IPC.

“The IPC is designed as an optimal training ground for social workers. In addition to the exceptional clinical experience, the collaborative piece is key. Students gain experience working with different disciplines and learn how each discipline operates and what they bring to the table. IPC students graduate without fear of other professions and are well-versed in the laws around social work that they will have to navigate,” Stoltz said.

When Stoltz joined AiR there were no clinical social workers on the team. Now their clinical case management program, which is built on the family systems model, is predominantly clinical social workers. “Social workers are uniquely qualified to do this type of work. They have the ability to pull all of the disciplines together and they don’t become too attached to a specific approach or way of doing things. So much of our work is done collaboratively, it’s vitally important to be able to look at all of the layers and not align with only a single discipline. The IPC is an especially effective environment in which to hone these skills,” Stoltz said.