From Appalachian roots to trailblazing innovations, ETSU’s Dr. Natasha Gouge wins a major award

Published 12:13 pm Wednesday, April 10, 2024

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As the director of East Tennessee State University’s Behavioral Health and Wellness Clinic (BHWC), a clear vision guides Dr. Natasha Gouge.  

The clinic, part of the Department of Psychology at ETSU, offers a variety of services including psychological evaluations, psychotherapy, brief interventions and medication management to both the campus and community. It’s primarily staffed by doctoral graduate student clinicians supervised closely by licensed psychologists. 

“My ultimate goal is to cultivate a training space that allows students to feel safe and supported to approach clinical challenges, growth and skills,” said Gouge. “To me, when you aim to put your students and staff first, everyone wins.” 

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Peers are taking notice of Gouge and her work. 

Earlier this semester, she received the Association of Psychology Training Clinics’ prestigious APTC Innovation Award. The award pays tribute to a meaningful innovation that positively impacts training, research or service and nominations are solicited from hundreds of psychology training clinics across several different countries.  

Gouge received the award for innovations related to training based on an expansive quality improvement project focused on enhancing psychological assessment systems and competencies within the BHWC. Analyzing the past seven years’ worth of service delivery and training data, Gouge has paid special attention to the overall experience for students, faculty and patients alike.  

The university’s clinic is now approaching its fourth summer semester operating under the new data-driven training model.  

“Student competencies, skills and satisfaction have improved; clinic processes overall are drastically improved with no-shows and lag time cut to almost zero once clients are scheduled for their first assessment appointment,” Gouge said. “What used to take the clinic a full year to complete, we can now do that same level of volume in under 15 weeks and while giving patients a streamlined, high-quality experience in a rapid turnaround timeline.” 

She added: “It’s truly been a win-win-win for the clinic, community and competencies.” 

The award is especially meaningful for Gouge, an ETSU graduate and Appalachian native.  

“I know what living and working in a Mental Health Shortage Area feels like. Waitlists are so incredibly long everywhere,” she said. “Last year, we provided assessments for folks across 18 different counties – all in Mental Health Shortage Areas and across four different states. I feel so honored to serve the people in this region and work alongside our students every day.” 

From discoveries entirely new to science to books about little-known maladies, Gouge is one of the dozens of ETSU faculty generating cutting-edge scholarship. 

“A very special thanks goes out to my colleagues Drs. Meredith Ginley and Rachel Miller-Slough, who not only partnered with me in this innovation endeavor, but initiated a successful grant proposal that funded assessment materials for us and who kindly nominated me and the clinic for the award,” she said.  

She added: “Even with extremely reduced fees, sliding scale options and financial hardship opportunities, we receive an overwhelming number of referrals for individuals who are experiencing significant hardships that interfere with their ability to pay for services. The Appalachian Treasure Fund is a 501(c)(3) that was co-founded by myself and one of our graduate students, Dee Meadows, and the function of this foundation is to allow charitable donations to better help us expand to meet the training, service and mental health needs of Appalachia.”  


Photo Contributed

Dr. Natasha Gouge