UTEP Student Health and Wellness Center Offers Mental Health Services
Last Updated on February 04, 2020 at 12:00 AM
Originally published February 04, 2020
By Laura L. Acosta
Among the school supplies in Elisa Dobler's office at The University of Texas at El Paso's Student Health and Wellness Center is a basket full of pink, yellow and green Play-Doh that sits in the middle of her coffee table.
Students stretch, squeeze and roll the colorful clay between their hands while talking to Dobler, a clinical counselor, about their daily struggles with school, work and relationships.
“Play-Doh or other tactile toys are a grounding technique that helps people stay engaged in a session,” Dobler said. “It’s a relaxing technique that makes people feel more comfortable, which is why I use it. It can be a little intimidating for someone to just sit and stare at you. With the Play-Doh, they have something to fiddle with while they’re talking to you, and that makes people feel more at ease about opening up.”
Academic expectations, heavy workloads, homesickness and other stressful experiences can take a toll on students’ emotional health and academic performance.
To provide students in distress the mental health support they need, UTEP’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) placed Dobler in the health and wellness center in October 2019 to offer counseling services as part of its preventive and wellness offerings.
She is the first counselor in a new CAPS initiative that embeds counselors in different locations and colleges across the University who can tailor mental health programs specific to that population. Funding support for counseling services is provided by the health and wellness center.
“One of the advantages of the embedded counselor is that they are able to develop a deeper understanding of the programming offered through the colleges, which can help in better understanding the unique concerns that students from that particular college face,” said CAPS Director Brian Sneed, Ph.D. “Outreach and prevention work can be tailored to the specific needs of the students within that college.”
Individual or group counseling is offered through CAPS, but David Porras, Jr., the health and wellness center’s business manager, said that having a counselor there enables students to address their physical and mental health concerns in the same place.
In the past, students who sought help for depression or anxiety at the Student Health and Wellness Center were directed to the CAPS office in Union Building West. Today, they can make an appointment with Dobler at the health and wellness center or a counselor at the CAPS office.
“Combining psychological and medical services is more convenient for the students,” Porras said. “It increases the visibility of the Student Health and Wellness Center, and we provide the service our students need in one convenient location to get them back to their academic responsibilities.”
Through counseling, students learn to cope with the pressures of university life by talking about their feelings or concerns.
“I think that for most people it can be a little bit scary because they feel that if they come in here and talk they will come across some judgement,” said Dobler, who has a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s degree in social work from UTEP. “But the truth is that it’s not a therapist’s job to tell them what to do. It’s a therapist’s job to help them figure out what they want to do. The solution is always already there and we just help them sift through all the different struggles and problems to get to that kernel of truth that they already have.”
According to a 2018 report from the American College Health Association, 63% of college students said they felt overwhelming anxiety and 42% felt so depressed that it was difficult to function.
At UTEP, a 2019 survey by the College of Health Sciences, which oversees the health and wellness center, and the Student Government Association identified a need for services to treat stress, anxiety and depression at the center as a priority for students.
“We are so excited to have Ms. Dobler at the Student Health Center,” said Jessica Martinez, SGA President. “I think it is of great importance for students to have access to resources for all aspects of health, especially mental health, available on campus. With this new service provided by the Student Health and Wellness Center, the well-being and success for us students is heightened. I encourage all students to take advantage of this service provided to us.”
The collaboration also has enabled CAPS and the health and wellness center’s health care providers to align their services and provide better patient care.
Dobler said some mental health issues such as depression may present with physical symptoms. Other conditions such as eating disorders would require the assistance of both medical and counseling professionals.
Dobler, who completed her practicum at CAPS when she was a graduate social work student, said she hopes that students who have a positive experience with UTEP’s counseling services will continue to make their emotional health and well-being a priority, even after they graduate.
“They understand that this is a part of life, and if they’re going through a really tough time, it’s okay for them to talk to someone,” Dobler said.
For more information about UTEP’s counseling services, visit https://www.utep.edu/student-affairs/counsel/.