The featured guest today is Dr. Mallaree Blake, a clinical psychologist who works at UTD’s Student Counseling Center. We talked about what the Counseling Center offers to current UTD students, such as individual, couples, group therapy and more. The following menu was constructed to organize the interview in a category style, transcribed initially from live recording which was conducted on 2/10/17.

Pertinent Links
Facebook Page:

What sort of services are offered at the Student Counseling Center?

A whole range, to be honest. We offer individual therapy, couples therapy, group therapy, in which our program is really growing. We offer consultation services to professors, parents that might be concerned. We have an emergency, drop-in crisis services; so students who are experiencing any sort of crisis can come in and see a therapist in house. We do outreach, kind of like this, educational. We specialize in that, come to classrooms and talk to students about a range of issues. We also offer assessment for students maybe looking to explore if they might have a learning disorder, ADHD, or maybe just better understand some of their mental health symptoms. We offer psychiatric services, so we have an in-house psychiatrist, Dr. Yeamans, that sees our UTD students, which is a unique feature of our counseling center, not a lot of universities have that service.

How do you set up an appointment?

What I would typically recommend is that you come in to our office. We are located in the Student Services Building on the fourth floor, kind of tucked back in the corner. Students come in, fill out some paperwork for us, and we need that paperwork to be filled out before we can go ahead and establish an appointment. We want to make sure that a student isn’t experiencing a crisis in that moment. we want to make sure that they can wait for an intake appointment. Once they fill out that paperwork, they will have an intake appointment scheduled and that’s how we get the process started for referring them to either our services or services off campus.

How many counseling sessions do we get as students? I know that we get some for free. How does that work?

Our services that we offer, including our psychiatric services, are free to enrolled students. I will add that, we will see students that are in crisis regardless of their enrollment status. But we’re shifting towards working from what we call a brief therapy model. So what that means, during an intake appointment or the first initial meetings with a therapist they decide to do individual therapy. there will be a conversation about how long we think that student might need to be in therapy. That can range from 4 sessions up to 12 sessions. So the maximum that a student is allowed for the academic year is 12 sessions. But we’re trying to kind of encourage students to realize that they may only need 5 sessions to address some of the current issues and maybe it doesn’t need to be individual therapy. They can access some of the other things that we offer and a lot of the reason behind that is so that we can make sure that we’re offering the biggest service to the most students in need on campus.

What are the hours for the Counseling Center?

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday we are open 8-5. Thursdays we are open 8 until 7:30. We keep a later night on those nights, some of that is for group or for students that might be needing later sessions with some of the clinicians. So we don’t offer weekend hours or weekend sessions. That’s also part of why having referrals is really important for us so if students are looking for a clinician that is accepting new clients and maybe is out in the community, can meet them on the weekend, we want to get them connected to that person.

Do you guys usually partner with the Wellness Center?

We do partner with them a lot. I think we’re a department on campus that is trying to have connections on campus as much as we can, so the wellness center is a great group and department that does a lot of outreach and programming. They have a nutritionist in house that does a lot of work for students. We meet with her regularly and we do a lot refreshing outreach events with them. The Center for students in recovery is in partnership with us in a lot of things. They have amazing groups that they run and amazing events for students that are sober events. They take them to hockey, baseball games and they do really rad stuff. We partner with the multicultural center. In particular, there’s a group called Women in Social Engagement and its a discussion group for women of color. The international center and the student counseling center are offering a global conversations setting group particularly for international students that are looking for a space to connect over that experience maybe even to discuss the current political climate that we’re in. We want to offer a really safe space for students. All that information can be found on our website.

Could you tell me more about the staff of the Student Counseling Center?

So we, like Imentioned before, we’re very focused on wanting to have a really diverse staff opportunity because we have a very diverse population at UTD. We also are very focused on culture in general. We do a lot of trainings for our staff around diversity issues and clinical training because we want to be really competent physicians for the students that we see here. We have on staff maybe 20 or 25 people, and that ranges. We have a good chunk of licensed psychologists that are on staff, we have some social workers on staff, and some other licensed professional counselors. We also offer a really great training program for students that are working towards their doctorate. We have an APA accredited internship program in which we usually take about 3 interns from all over the country to complete their final year of doctorate training with us. We also offer 4 slots, which might shift, but 4 slots right now for practicum purposes so someone who is a little bit earlier on in their doctorate training can see clients.

We are really transparent about that process when clients come in they can talk a little bit about their preferences that they might have for a therapist. Maybe they say I would like someone that shares my racial identity, I want someone whose sexual orientation is similar to mine, maybe a religious faith or cultural background. It already takes so much courage to show up, we want someone to be as comfortable as possible.

We’ve got a range of racial diversity on our staff, we’ve got a range in sexual orientation diversity, in gender, religious faith. We’re doing our best to also expand our knowledge and experience in order to be as helpful to students as we can be.

Can you describe a typical intake appointment?

So I like to think of it as a snap shot of whats going on for the student when they come in. Typically what will happen is the student will have already filled out all the paperwork that they need and they’ll get brought back by a therapist and they’ll learn a little bit about what the therapy process might look like, the rules around confidentiality that we have as a center that’s really important to know about. they’ll maybe learn a little more about the therapist they’re sitting with. Our job, as the clinician in the room, is to collect some history, what you’re presenting concerns are, whats happing for you, whats bringing in for therapy. We’re going to want to know the history of that problem. Is this new? Has it been around for awhile? Say you’re coming in with anxiety and it’s something that you think you’ve had for a couple months or maybe longer. We’re going to want to know what changes it, what makes it worse, what makes it better. We’re going to take some history in regard to your family, some information about school, you growing up as a kid, maybe some of your social relationships. We always collect information about trauma experiences or substance use, suicidal thinking, because all of these are really important in seeing the whole person. I think we’ll also talk a lot about culture and diversity. That’s a really big focus for our center. We really value understanding the whole person from all the different lenses and however we can talk about that and make the therapeutic space comfortable for someone who is maybe new to therapy or is unsure about being open to a stranger. We have conversations about that too.

I just want to say something. For intake appointments try to be as honest as possible even though it might feel uncomfortable opening up to someone that you don’t know. They have been trained professionally and, not to invalidate your experiences, they have probably helped someone go through what you are going through. So try to keep that in mind.

Absolutely. Think about the courage that it takes for someone to say that they would like to get some assistance in their life. Asking for help is sometimes the hardest step of all. We really value the strength it takes to come in and even share your story with a stranger. That’s really brave. The more honest that you can be, in a way that feels comfortable for you, is the way to help yourself the most. Great point.

So you have the intake appointment but can students continue to see the psychiatrist on staff for their whole time at UTD?

Yeah. That service can be experienced for them as long as they are an enrolled student. The follow up appointments and maybe sometimes Dr. Yeamans will decide to only need to check in once a month. maybe less. That experience will differ for every student that comes in. As long as you’re an enrolled student, that service is available to you. What will be beneficial is maybe you’re coming up on graduation and he’s going to want to get you connected to someone else that you could see that maybe will be affordable if you’re starting a new job and you have insurance or you can still be on your parents insurance. He’s going to want to make sure that you are getting that continued care because the only limitation for our services is you have to be an enrolled student.

How many counseling sessions do we get as students? I know that we get some for free. How does that work?

Our services that we offer, including our psychiatric services, are free to enrolled students. I will add that, we will see students that are in crisis regardless of their enrollment status. But we’re shifting towards working from what we call a brief therapy model. So what that means, during an intake appointment or the first initial meetings with a therapist they decide to do individual therapy. there will be a conversation about how long we think that student might need to be in therapy. That can range from 4 sessions up to 12 sessions. So the maximum that a student is allowed for the academic year is 12 sessions. But we’re trying to kind of encourage students to realize that they may only need 5 sessions to address some of the current issues and maybe it doesn’t need to be individual therapy. They can access some of the other things that we offer and a lot of the reason behind that is so that we can make sure that we’re offering the biggest service to the most students in need on campus.

What kind of group therapy is offered?

Our group therapy is pretty rad. We offer different ranges of groups every semester so they change. If people are interested, I would recommend that they check out our Facebook or look online and there will be lots of ideas for that. Right now we have an expressive arts group that’s really cool. So students that might be interested in poetry or clay, painting, writing, things like that can use that creative side in a group therapy setting. We have a gender and sexual identity group that’s a really popular group that we typically run every semester. We have healthy relationships, and international students conversation group, we have a professional growth group for men, mindfulness and meditation seems to be a really popular group that we run pretty often. I think one of the unique aspects that we have just started to run through the past maybe 2 years has been a workshop series we call Healthy U. So its offered to any student on campus, you don’t have to be a student of the counseling center you don’t have to be enrolled in any other services, you don’t even really have to sign up; you can just show up. It’s a drop in service so students can show up and right now its scheduled on Mondays Thursdays and Fridays at 11am. The topics range from Stress and Coping to Healthy Relationships, Emotion Regulation, and Mindfulness and Meditation. So maybe you’re a student who isn’t really sure if group therapy is what they really need right now and who is not really sure about individual therapy but just really want to pick up some coping skills, then this is a great, great way for you to drop in, like a class, learn a few things, and see if you can manage some of your stress or concerns that way.

And like you said no strings attached so you just drop in learn and leave. That’s good to know.

How long is the typical wait period to get in to either individual or couples therapy?

This is becoming a growing problem across all college campuses. The demand is increasing and the services are just there to meet the need that we’re at right now. We’re all kind of experiencing a crisis for this across the nation, acting more like a community health center. So we’re getting creative on ways that we can address that. I think that some of those things are really working and we’re looking for feedback from students on how that is working. Typically what will happen, we see every student that comes in for us. So we are guaranteeing an intake appointment with every student and then during that intake appointment, we will decide if it’s individual therapy, couples therapy, group therapy, or other referrals that might be a good fit. We prioritize the greatest need. So that might be why we experience a wait list. That’s why it might take a few weeks before you get a call about getting in to see a therapist. And that wait can really range, if you’re a student who is in incredible need, who might even be experiencing suicidal thoughts or a crisis of some kind, you will be seen. We will guarantee that to students but maybe if a student is curious about focusing on personal growth or maybe becoming a better version of themselves, we might recommend that there are other options besides just individual therapy for them, including the fact if they have insurance, we will refer them out too if that’s an option.

So I think the wait can range from a week to one day to a few weeks.

Can you explain how that is different from individual and group therapy?

Definitely. So this is a service that is available for any UTD student that’s maybe looking to get some insight about the relationship with their partner. Only one student has to be a UTD student, not both. For an individual who is married or partnered with someone that doesn’t go to UTD, then that service is still available to them. The intake process works very similarly, you come in as a couple. there’s an intake that happens in order to look at you as an individual but also how you are as a couple. We will discuss what’s hanging you up, whats working, whats not working. All of our therapists in the office do couples therapy so that’s available. We have a very diverse center and are continuing to advocate for even more diversity within our counseling center.

Can someone do individual and couples therapy?

They can. I think sometimes it might depend on, at least that’s what I think our standard has been.From what I’m familiar with. I think what we might a lot of times encourage is if we’re going to see them as a couple we a lot of times, if we realize it would be even more beneficial to them to be seen as an individual on top of that then they can meet with another therapist or refer them out to someone else they can see. I know that the women’s center on campus also offers brief counseling services. so that’s an option. They offer that to staff as well. They’re the only place on campus for staff to see a therapist is at the women’s center.

It works in a lot of ways like individual therapy. It will be a lot about understanding your patterns and your habits and where you’re getting stuck and what’s working. Just to provide some feedback and awareness about your dynamic as a couple to make you work as best as possible.

I noticed on your website that you guys offer something called the Mind-Body Lab. Can you explain that a little bit?

This is a service that is in transition right now, because of space, that we’re hoping to get it up and running pretty soon. Hopefully when we have enough space to house all of the really great equipment that we have. The Mind-Body Lab has a few different things.The intention is to create a space for students to access services for a variety of issues. Some of that means that there is a massage chair, sometimes we just need to chill out for a little while and we want to make that available for students. We have a weighted blanket that is also in the Mind-Body Lab. So for students that might experience some kind of sensory overload, a weighted blanket is a nice tool for grounding experiences. There’s lots of resources in regards to meditation and mindfulness that we use as far as software and DVDs and that sort of thing. There’s also biofeedback, which we’re hoping in particular to get up and running for students.

Could you explain biofeedback for people who don’t know?

Biofeedback is a process that allows individuals to gain immediate knowledge about their bodies specific responses to stress while simultaneously providing training and regulating the bodies responses. So it’s dual, it’s bringing awareness to you so you can understand what’s happening to your body and and instrument that you are using on the outside of your body and inside your body in order to regulate that stress. Its helping you bring that awareness out of you so you can see it. So if you can imagine if there were monitors or wires, seems like a very superficial way to describe it, hooked up to you, and sometimes it looks like a screen and sometimes a good biofeedback exercise is you’ll see a little line that’s on the screen and a darker line and sometimes its about training your body to get that one line to match up with the other. Some of that is done through breathing, through relaxation, through managing your body’s responses to stress. you are physically training your body to get to a more grounded space.

When you’re hooked up to the machine, are you asked to think about things that make you anxious and try to regulate your body?

Yes. Exactly. During a biofeedback session individuals are able to see in real time how their body store and reacts to stress.So definitely an anxious stimulus helps you recognize that you are stressed in that moment. And then you are learning ways to recognize and regulate those responses both inside and outside of the biofeedback session.The intention is to learn the training experience in house and then practice it elsewhere, where you might not have the sensors hooked up to your body. The whole point is to get a better understanding of how your body responds to stress and then how you use those skills in the real world. That is the intention.

Please expand on what this is.

We do this in partnership with the Wellness Center on Campus, because they are in the same student service building as us, this is an event that happens on the last Tuesday of every month. It is a refresh event, taking time away from academics to replenish yourself, and practice some self-care. For some of the events of this month of February, we are potentially doing a spa theme in one of the residence halls in where students can drop in, get some snacks, and maybe do some sort of spa experience set up. We’ll probably do some raffles and prizes so we heavily encourage students to attend those sorts of things. If you can think about Paws for Final’s thats an event that we also do.

That’s when you guys bring puppies on campus? Yeah I’ve seen that before.

Everyone loves the puppies. We do that in partnership with the library. Caricatures get offered and we typically do that every December but we also bring in dogs that are therapeutic, emotional support dogs that can let everybody get a little distressed.We all need that around finals time so the counseling center is trying to find ways for students to be practicing better self care because what would be even better is to give you coping skills and get you de-stressed before you even have to come in to our office. That’s what we really want. Students can check out our Facebook for Time Out Tuesday events or the wellness center’s Facebook to advertise those. because they will be different themes every month in different locations. They just did a blacklight dance party in January. that was something that we partnered with the wellness center in. We’re trying our best to give students events to participate in to help them manage what its like to be a college student.

Could you explain the UTD talk line?

We have a confidential crisis hotline that’s just for UTD students. It’s 972-UTD-TALK (972-883-8255). So Students can call in and talk to a therapist to get some immediate support regarding any sort of crisis or emergency or questions that they might be having. It’s really great because obviously if students are in crisis and come in to our counseling center and we’re open, we’re going to see them. We will always be available to students. But sometimes some of those crises or questions or experiences happen after hours and we want to be able to provide a resource to students. So I hope students use it, they are great people on that line and like i said, it’s a confidential resource just for UTD students. I know my clients that I’ve worked with in the past have utilized it and found it very helpful for them. Please get the word out for UTD-TALK.

Could you explain more about confidentiality and Title 9

Absolutely. I think it’s really important for students to know that the services that they receive at the counseling center are confidential services; they’re not tied to their academic record. If you’re over the age of 18, unless you give consent for that information to be provided to someone else, your parents or other people in the university don’t have access to that information.That’s really important because we want to be the safe space that students can come to if they don’t feel like they can do that with their friends or family, their professors. There are some limits to that confidentiality. If we feel at any point that a student is of imminent harm to themselves or someone else, then that could be a means to break confidentiality. I don’t mean having suicidal thoughts or thinking. That’s more of an imminent harm, like they have an active plan for suicide, we need to follow that up. So I want to make that clear because lots of people experience suicidal thinking. And we don’t want students to think that they can’t talk about that to us in a confidential way. The other limits to confidentiality will be any sort of suspected child abuse or of a vulnerable adult. If for some reason a clinician is subpoena by a court of law or if a student discloses a relationship with a previous therapist that was sexual in nature, we are mandated to report on all accounts.

In reference to your Title 9 question, this is an important topic to talk about because the counseling center offers sexual assault recovery services. A sexual assault coordinator on our staff that helps students to connect to care off campus as well. But all clinicians within the counseling center will support students who maybe recently or in the past experienced a sexual assault. We are Title 9 exempt status. So what that means, where as professors on campus or RA’s or TA’s have to report if a sexual assault has occurred, the counseling center does not have to do that. So that is a confidential space to talk about sexual assault without a student fearing that that information would be reported or shared elsewhere.

We don’t want to be part of the academic records of students. We want to be a separate entity, provide them with a space to talk about that. That might mean we might encourage a student to work through a process of sexual assault and that could mean pressing charges, they may decide not to do that. We acting in the best interest of the client that comes in, whatever their decision is. Yeah we’re not here to report, we’re here to support.

Could you explain more about the LEAP initiative?

Part of our outreach events, like this, is partnering with the women center, doing a lot of ally trainings, which is our education programming advocacy initiative that we have on campus. So that means, in partnership with some staff of the women’s center, the counseling center provides training sessions in regards to LBGTQ affirming interactions, and just general training around that topic in order to be advocates because that’s a really important part of who we are. Education,Training ,Student Affairs, we did a really big initiative where we trained all the people that operate within the student affairs  on LGBTQ issues. So that meant going to the Student Health Center and Dean’s Office. It’s been really well received. This campus is very focused on being inclusive which makes us really unique and important and any way the counseling center can do that, we want to be a part of it. We’re also really open to feedback. If people have events that they want outreach experiences which we could be partnered with more. If there’s more training or education that we could provide. we want to know that so we can meet the demand on campus. so we’re trying to hear more from students.

We’re partnering more with Student Government to see what more we could be doing. We just want students to know that we are available and that we want to be your help.

You mentioned that if students have insurance, helping them look for outside resources. So you help find counselors and psychiatrists too?

Absolutely. So we have a really wonderful referral coordinator, Shelly Turner, who works in our office. All of our therapists will help a student do that kind of service or get them connected to care off campus regardless.Maybe a student is coming in saying, “I have insurance and I’d like to start therapy with a long term therapist. Maybe the brief model at UTD SCC doesn’t work for me.” They could work with Shelly and say this is my insurance and here’s what I know and Shelley can say great I’ve got this list of providers that work out in the community. Maybe you want some that are away from Richardson that are closer to where your home is if you don’t live on campus. Maybe you’re looking for a particular type of service, like maybe you want to work with a therapist that does dialectical behavioral therapy or biofeedback. Maybe a specific type of couples therapist. and we can get you connected, not just to therapy services but psychiatric services off campus, groups, even lifestyle connections that you might need that can help with basic needs. We can definitely help with all of that.

I don’t know if a lot of our students even know about the Student Counseling Center. I know I went to it a couple years ago and I think a friend told me about it, but I don’t think I ever saw anything on the UTD campus mentioning it.

I think that that’s something that we’ve been trying to be more proactive about. We do outreach, like this. We are trying to show up at orientation more, trying to do table events, we partner with different departments in the community on campus. So for example, we have eating disorder awareness week that’s happening at the very end of February, early March and we’re partnering with the Wellness Center to do lots of events on campus. Students might see us tabling for different awareness events and I think we’re trying to make sure that students know that we’re there so that we can help them but also get them connected in other ways. they might realize that there are other services on campus that probably will help them more than the counseling center can. We want to be as helpful in that process as possible.

Is there anything that you want to discuss more or something that we haven’t gotten to yet?

Typically how our psychiatric services work within the center is, we like for students to be seen in some other capacity as well so either individual or group therapy if possible. That is just important for us because what research tells us, is that the best combination for clinical care is medication and therapy if medicine is necessary. If thats the case, we want to make sure that we’re providing the students a space to talk about the side effects, what its like to be on medication, the potential stigma of a diagnosis, along with them receiving the psychotropic medication from our psychiatrist on staff. Obviously that can’t always be the case, we just talked about our wait list experience, and we can’t always guarantee that but we’re trying to meet the student demand in whatever way we can.

Typically Dr. Yeamans does a psychiatric evaluation, usually a one hour appointment, where he clocks a lot of history, symptoms, current experiences. Similar to the intake appointment with more of a medical flare, a little bit like your doctor would. And he will assess whether he thinks medication is a good fit and at that point the student will be given a script and can fill that up at a pharmacy of their choosing. So that service as far as the psychiatric evaluation and any sort of follow up is free to enrolled students which is a huge deal because psychiatric appointments are challenging to get, for a lot of our students that don’t might not have insurance that might feel impossible to pay out of pocket for that experience.

Psychiatrists can be very pricey. Especially if you want one that specializes in your personal diagnosis.

Dr. Yeamans sees a lot of our clients, if a student is looking for something more particular, we can get them referred and connected to someone in the community that would maybe make them feel more comfortable, maybe someone that shares their religious faith or works from a cultural background similar to theirs. After you fill that script, Dr. Yeamans will do a followup session every 4 weeks. The time will be a little bit shorter, just to check in, reassess and evaluate where students are at. I think a common misconception is that people think that medication is always a lifetime option and that’s not always necessary. for some yes and for some maybe this is just a period to lift the fog, get grounded, and have them get the energy they need to work on to feel a little bit better.

We want to get you feeling like you can do this on your own. or with the support of services outside of our building too. we want to get students connected in all the ways that they can be.