Social Work Researcher Trains Students, Health Care Professionals How to Identify Substance Misuse

Video produced by UK Research Communications.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 21, 2017) The beginning of research is to identify and define a problem. The researcher must ask questions, sometimes difficult and complex questions, to gain knowledge and understanding before arriving at a solution. This same process is identical in social work practice, yet some of those questions are deeply personal and difficult to ask but nonetheless compelling in creating effective change.

In her research on substance abuse, Kalea Benner, director of undergraduate studies at the University of Kentucky College of Social Work, says students and even experienced practitioners with years of experience in their chosen field, often find it difficult to ask the tough questions regarding substance use. Despite knowing the physical, emotional and relational impact of substance misuse, many physicians and social workers fail to thoroughly assess use.

“When I became a social work educator, that was one thing I wanted to help my students do: gain confidence in asking those tough questions,” Benner said. “That’s the only way to truly create change, by starting with acknowledging what the issues are.”

Before coming to UK, Benner worked in child welfare as a licensed clinical social worker which often involved heartbreaking situations that continue to compel her today to continually learn how to better serve the populations she works with. She wants to teach her students that asking tough questions is a normal part of recognizing problems and how to best treat them.

In a recent interview, Benner discussed her research on training health professionals to recognize substance misuse using SBIRT (screening, brief intervention and referral to treatment), an evidence-based practice used to identify, reduce and prevent problematic use and misuse of alcohol and drugs, including prescription medications. The model is interdisciplinary and is being implemented at the UK Department of Family and Community Medicine Clinic in Lexington; FCM medical residents, as well as undergraduate and graduate social work students are being trained in SBIRT, providing collaboration between health providers in ensuring patient well-being.

photo of Kalea Benner, University of Kentucky College of Social Work.
Kalea Benner, University of Kentucky College of Social Work.

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