The University of Texas-Pan American is offering free counseling services to the community through the recently opened Counseling and Assessment Preparation (CAP) Center in the College of Education.
The 8,000-square-foot center was established to provide clinical training opportunities for master's level-education students who are required to complete practicum and internship hours before they graduate, as well as an opportunity to provide services to the community.
"This is a win-win situation because we will be able to provide a service to our community at no charge," Dr. Santiago Silva, clinical director of educational psychology and licensed professional counselor, said. "And we can provide our students with that clinical experience they need in order to complete their graduate programs."
The center's services are provided by students who are looking to become licensed professional counselors in the state, and are supervised by Silva and Dr. Yvonne Castillo, clinical assistant professor of educational psychology and a licensed professional counselor. The center is conveniently located on campus in the Education Complex, Room 1.272 and is open Monday-Thursday, 1-9 p.m. and from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. on Friday.
"Offering these services is very important because we do have many people in the Rio Grande Valley who are uninsured and who cannot afford private sector counseling," Castillo said. "Most of the time families have Medicaid for their children, but not for themselves. Once they come they realize that they can really benefit from the services we offer too."
The CAP center provides mental health services to anyone three years of age and older. All members of the local community are eligible except UTPA students, staff and faculty, and individuals who are diagnosed as psychotic, suicidal, or homicidal. Eligibility is determined during the initial assessment.
Silva said the UTPA graduate students who provide the counseling services are well qualified and have each taken a wide variety of courses that have taught them the techniques they need to implement in a clinical counseling setting.
Since the clinic opened its doors in February, students have provided services to approximately 30 clients.
Each room is equipped with a camera covered with reflective film that allows professors the opportunity to do live observations of the student's interactions with clients without intruding on the privacy and confidentiality of the client. The observations allow the professors the chance to offer the students guidance and feedback about their counseling techniques.
Leslie Campos, UTPA graduate student in guidance and counseling, has been counseling clients at the CAP Center and said it is important because it provides her the opportunity to make a difference in people's lives and receive the training she needs for her degree.
"The opportunity to help others is continuously rewarding," Campos said. "The experience obtained at the center is priceless because we receive immediate feedback from our supervisors too."
Campos graduates with her master's this month and plans to continue to offer her counseling services at the CAP Center while completing the hours needed for permanent licensure.
Castillo said there is a demand for private practitioners in the work force, especially those who are bilingual.
"Many of our clients are Spanish speaking only," she said." It's very important that we produce more bilingual professionals to be able to deal with the demand of the clients that are coming in. We also share with our students the importance of being able to leave the RGV area and work elsewhere because they are such an asset to the nation."
Silva said the center will train students to be able to meet the challenges that school counseling or private practice will present to them.
"Our philosophy has been that if we train and prepare our students as best as we can, they are not only going to represent the University well, but they are going to represent themselves and their profession well," he said.
Clients can schedule an appointment at the clinic or get more information by calling Yvette Alafa, CAP Center secretary, at 956/318-5251.