Wednesday, June 19, 2024

‘Pilot group’ helping LSUS counseling clinic prepare to offer services to community

by BIZ Magazine

SHREVEPORT – The on-campus counseling clinic at LSUS is laying the groundwork to offer mental health services to the Shreveport-Bossier community.

The Community Counseling and Psychology Clinic conducted a ‘pilot group’ of four LSUS students that participated in a group therapy series this spring with the goal of establishing the clinic’s policies and procedures in preparation for clients from the community.

Dr. Seth Whiting, clinic director and assistant psychology professor, said the clinic’s aim is to offer group therapy services this fall and expand to a variety of one-on-one services in applied behavior analysis, counseling and assessment.

“The main intent with this pilot group (of LSUS students) is to do a dress rehearsal, which will help us to get all of our operating procedures and materials ready for real clients,” Whiting said. “We’ll add as many services as we can based on availability and faculty interest.

“For our students, this experience allows them to see what it’s like on the ‘other side of the desk.’ They get to feel what a real therapy setting is like and get exposed to a real application of the psychological concepts they are learning in class.”

Once available, services will be offered to community residents on waiting lists at other facilities or those who would be otherwise unable to afford counseling.

“We’ll be an additional outlet for the community because there are always waitlists for services,” Whiting said. “There’s a training component to this in that our students will have hands-on experience working in a group therapy setting in a clinic and eventually in one-on-one settings.

“Our faculty have a wide range of expertise, so we’re looking to develop avenues so they can use that expertise to benefit the community.”

The four students in the pilot group were a mix of undergraduate psychology students and graduate students in the school psychology specialist program.

The students went through a six-week group therapy series in which they participated in mindfulness exercises as well as practiced acceptance and commitment therapies. The one-hour sessions were twice per week.

“Being able to be on the other side and be a patient allows you to understand how difficult it can be to share things that we often don’t feel comfortable acknowledging,” said Alexis Areias, a psychology senior. “It also gives insight into how important rapport is – you have to be able to trust the person sitting across from you.

“Group therapy allows you to see that you’re not alone in your struggles.”

The clinic’s design is to have LSUS students transition to practitioners, but psychology senior Terri Thrash said having counselors who take care of their own mental health will allow them to better serve their clients.

“As an aspiring mental health professional, it was helpful for me to process my feelings through talk therapy, and I think it’d be beneficial to the community at large,” Thrash said. “We all have mental health struggles at times, and to be able to acknowledge those struggles is beneficial to our future mental health wellbeing.

“Our mental well-being is important to be able to fully help others with their mental health needs.”

The LSUS clinic does have experience in providing community services, particularly through its School of Rock program with Specialist in School Psychology students at LSUS.

School of Rock targets elementary school children who aren’t performing at grade-level academically and may have behavior issues.

One potential expansion of future services would be to complement School of Rock with more applied behavior analysis by using counseling and psychology faculty and students.

The initial offering of group therapy for adults, and eventually one-on-one mental health services, are also in the works.

“Traditionally, if people are struggling, you try to escape or avoid bad experiences,” Whiting said. “But usually you can’t avoid or escape bad temptations forever. It helps to accept certain things and move forward anyway.

“This kind of therapy is applicable for students and professors working in any industry. The ultimate goal for our clients is to increase psychological flexibility (resilience), which means to experience something for what it is, whether good or bad.”

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