Training Clinic wins national honor for delivering culturally relevant counseling services to UW-Madison students

Like many units across the UW-Madison campus, Stephanie Graham and her colleagues with the Department of Counseling Psychology are often thinking about ways to more effectively integrate multiculturalism and diversity into various aspects of their work.

“The mission of our department and its Counseling Psychology Training Clinic is strongly rooted in social justice and training culturally competent mental health practitioners,” says Graham, a clinical associate professor and director of the training clinic. “For us, it’s imperative that we’re not only talking about these important topics but that we’re putting our values into action.”

Over the past four years, this clinic has both built and bolstered a unique relationship with UW-Madison’s Division of Diversity, Equity and Educational Achievement (DDEEA) to increase access to psychological services for underrepresented students.

This partnership has become so successful that UW-Madison’s Counseling Psychology Training Clinic (CPTC) received the Clinic Innovation Award for 2018 from the Association of Psychology Training Clinics (APTC). This honor was presented March 24 at the APTC Annual Meeting in Maui, Hawaii.

“Our partnership with the Counseling Psychology Training Clinic has made a profound impact on the lives of talented under-represented students at UW-Madison,” says Gloria Hawkins, the assistant vice provost and Chancellors/Powers Knapp Scholars director with DDEEA. “The partnership has provided extraordinary mental health services, especially to our students of color who, in the past, have been very reluctant to seek mental health services.”

The CPTC aims to offer high-quality, cost-efficient and multiculturally competent psychological and mental health services to students and residents of Madison and the surrounding areas. As the name implies, the center is a training facility that is staffed by licensed psychologists who supervise master’s and doctoral students in the Department of Counseling Psychology.

CPTC’s award-winning program and partnership with campus diversity efforts has its roots in the fall of 2014, when the clinic initially partnered with the university’s First Wave Learning Community, which focuses on urban arts, spoken word and hip-hop culture, to deliver counseling services. It is believed to be the first partnership between a pipeline diversity program and a training clinic in the nation, and the efforts proved invaluable in breaking down the notion that students of color would not utilize therapy services.

Nick Frost, at the time a counseling psychology doctoral student who worked directly with the First Wave students, helped the First Wave program retain 100 percent of its students over a two-year period.

“For this unique group of students, a big part of what they do is advocacy and activism around issues of race and oppression,” said Frost, who will be joining the Department of Counseling Psychology this fall as an assistant professor. “It can be difficult to find a healthy balance for expressing these raw emotions and in finding the ability to go to class and regulate how they are feeling. I think the counseling services the training clinic provides are very helpful.”

Due to this initial success, it became clear that even more students could benefit with such services and some DDEEA administrators began to search for ways to strengthen and grow the mental health services available for its students. Today, the training clinic works closely with several different DDEEA-led programs for underrepresented students who have been recruited to UW-Madison via both merit- and need-based scholarships.

This partnership is especially valuable, notes Graham, because it provides the student clients another on-campus option for mental health services. Graham says the training clinic continues to focus on fine-tuning and tailoring its services to make the clinic more accessible and comfortable for members of marginalized student communities.

Today, the CPTC utilizes advanced doctoral students from the counseling psychology program who identify as underrepresented students in the role of “community support specialists.” These doctoral students work closely with the DDEEA scholarship program coordinators to serve the scholarship students. This “embedded therapist” model is often used for university athletes or other specialty campus groups

The community support specialists attend DDEEA program meetings and large-scale events throughout the academic year to better get to know the students they are serving. These support specialists introduce themselves, discuss mental health topics, describe how to access CPTC services and educate the students about topics ranging from psychotherapy to discrimination.

“We use this model to help to destigmatize psychotherapy and facilitate ease in scheduling appointments with therapists who value cultural competence,” explains Graham.

One new strategy being implemented this year is the utilization of short videos to spotlight the community support specialists in clinic spaces discussing counseling-related topics. The videos are sent to students via email to introduce them to, and help them become more comfortable with, the community support specialists.

“This helps reduce barriers for students who may experience initial anxiety about accessing counseling services and meeting with an unknown person,” says Alyssa Ramirez Stege, a doctoral student who worked as one of the community support specialists last year, and who now is a supervising teaching assistant with the CPTC. “I’m a first-generation college student and I’m from Mexico, so I have some shared experiences with some of the students who are seeking our clinic’s services. I think all of this helps the students we serve feel more comfortable.”

Graham and Ramirez Stege stress that it’s not only the students with the DDEEA scholarship programs that see a great value in this partnership.

“The psychologists in training are being given the opportunity to enhance their clinical competence via work with a caseload comprised of underrepresented students,” says Graham. “It is a valuable training experience for all students in our department.”

Just four years ago, only 15 percent of the clients utilizing the training clinic’s services were first-generation college students and only 28 percent identified as students of color. Today, both those figures have more than doubled to 35 percent and 58 percent, respectively. In addition, the CPTC provided 170 hours worth of counseling services to DDEEA clients in 2014-15, a number that exploded to 655 hours for 2016-17.

“I have seen some of our bright and talented young students struggle with feelings of isolation, feeling marginalized at a predominantly white university, as well as suffer from depression and anxiety,” says Hawkins. “The establishment of the partnership between DDEEA and the training clinic has made a significant difference in addressing access to mental health services for our students.”

The creation of this partnership has also pushed the clinic and department to broaden its training and supervision to include greater emphasis on the provision of culturally competent treatment. Such efforts include additional guidance on topics such as: trauma-informed care and complex trauma, responding to client disclosures about racist experiences on campus; social class in psychotherapy; and the use of self-disclosure in psychotherapy.

Another impact of this partnership can be felt at the program recruitment level, both for the Department of Counseling Psychology and the DDEEA. The potential to work at the clinic and as a community support specialist, says Graham, has often been cited as a positive by prospective students applying to the department’s Ph.D. program, with current students sharing their enthusiasm for this partnership with the prospective students.

“The partnership with the training clinic and DDEEA students is invaluable,” says Ramirez Stege. “By working and training with a diverse set of student clients, we gain the tools and knowledge necessary to one day be able to successfully work and serve the diverse populations so many of us identify with.”

Similarly, several DDEEA program administrators note the CPTC partnership with prospective students as a recruitment tool and example of support resources available.

“Training clinics are often looking for ways to pull together creative partnerships that can meet a need on campus,” says Graham, who will deliver a presentation on UW-Madison’s award-winning efforts at the APTC Annual Meeting. “We’re very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish and hope this model can be used by other universities. We’re also excited because we feel that this program exemplifies our social justice mission by increasing access to quality mental health services for marginalized undergraduate student populations.”

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