Graduate students work as counselors in on-campus clinic

The Mitchell Family Counseling Clinic is an institution that allows graduate students to work in a fully operational clinic serving the public around CSUN.

The clinic is a part of a part of the Marriage and Family Therapy program for the Department of Educational Psychology and Counseling in the Michael D. Eisner College of Education.

Dr. Michael Laurent, director of the clinic, said it originally started in the 1990s under the name Community Counseling Resource Institute.

“In 2006, a generous donation was made by one of the professors in our department, Dr. Rie Mitchell,” Laurent said.

He said the clinic offers community outreach and provides counseling services.

“Some of our clients come from on campus and see master’s level trainees,” Laurent said.

Laurent said the trainees are supervised either by him, a licensed psychologist or a licensed marriage family therapist.

“So it serves the needs of the public but also the students who are enrolled in our department,” Laurent said.

Laurent added the students are able to accumulate the number of hours of personal counseling services that they need to satisfy graduation requirements.

“Anyone who does a kind of occupation like this can’t have just lecture courses,” Laurent said. “You have to have practicum and field work.”

“We do get referrals from different clinicians but also from community groups,” she said. “It’s hard to get the word out because we’re hiding here on campus. It’s kind of challenge.”

He added that the clinic is plans to offer workshops for the community.

“This is in the areas of parenting skills, suicide prevention, or teenagers and self-esteem,” Laurent said.

Laurent said that in addition to workshops for autistic children, they help the siblings and parents of those children.

“The kids with autism—they get all the attention, all the attention, Laurent said. ”But what about the sibling that is going through stuff… or the parent’s stress?”

Donna Pioli, office administrator for the clinic and graduate of the program, said the clinic was a very small operation that once helped the public in dealing with stress in the aftermath of the 1994 earthquake.

Pioli said the clinic is not a crisis clinic and they first screen a client’s case over the phone.

“We give information about us first so they understand: this is who we are, this is what we do and this is how we do it,” Pioli said. “We give the fees because those are the two most important things for consumers—what are the services and how much is it going to cost.”

Pioli said the clinic has received good feedback on their practices with clients coming back.

Students that work at the clinic include those who are about to graduate and some who are just beginning.

“It’s a nice mix,”  Pioli said. “The total number, depending on the semester, is about 30.”

He said the students see clients after they receive training and they work with their supervisors.

“We have supervisors that cover eight students. Then they meet individually. I’ve come through the program myself and I’ve had experience with all the supervisors here,” Pioli said.

Pioli said the supervisors step in when the students feel they are doing something wrong or they could have done better.

“Our supervisors are so non-threatening, it’s a learning experience,” Pioli said. “Our students are well trained so they don’t make big mistakes or cause harm.”

Juanita Rivas graduated last December and worked as a trainee in the clinic about seven to 10 hours a week.

“It was all a very good experience. It was a learning process,” Rivas said.

Rivas, who now works at the El Centro de Amistad: The Friendship Center in San Fernando, said what she liked most about the clinic was the time she spent at the clinic watching other counselors work.

“Before we actually started seeing the clients, we had the opportunity to observe and take from other people who were there longer than us,” Rivas said.

Rivas said the chance to sit in with supervisors to observe how other manage their case work was extremely helpful.

“It wasn’t like they threw us in and we didn’t know what to expect,” Rivas said. “Before we start we have a mentor, and with that mentor we met once a week. We would watch videos and mock sessions and they would critique us and give us positive feedback on how to improve.”

Rivas added that the variety of clients that seek help at the clinic gave her a wider base of experience.

“I know there are some places that are specific to certain traumas or specific to only kids,” Rivas said.

She said the variety prepared her for her current job.