When “Justin” came to the counseling clinic at the University of North Texas at Dallas this past year, he was struggling with his body image. He was not overweight, but he thought he was too heavy when comparing himself to his peers. He is a smart kid, but his grades were starting to suffer.

Justin (not his real name) didn’t see his body as it really was.  He wanted a leaner build, so he engaged in anorexic behaviors, and when that didn’t work, he went to a local plastic surgeon and underwent liposuction.

That is when Justin’s mother learned about the UNT Dallas counseling clinic. She called Assistant Professor of Counseling Education Eric Green and arranged for her son to visit with a counselor. “What we found was that he was living out of fear that he believed he was not good enough, not attractive and not of value,” Green said.

Justin visited with a counselor for eight weeks doing “adolescent activity therapy” and “cognitive behavioral therapy.” He eventually began to correct his thinking and his grades started showing improvement.

Justin brought his counselor a picture of his family on vacation in Florida. In the photo his shirt was off. “It was powerful that this child was able to heal himself, to change his faulty thoughts,” Green said. “That may not sound like a big deal to anyone else. The kid took his shirt off at the beach to go swimming with his family; so what? But it was huge for this child, a remarkable step in self-acceptance.”

The mission of the counseling clinic is to provide the university’s nearly 100 master’s-level counseling students a lab to practice and perfect their skills. It also fulfills the university’s mission to reach out to the community.

“We provide services to many people, including minorities who are otherwise under-resourced and children who are abused, traumatized and neglected,” Green said. “That is what ignited this passion in me. That is what we are trying to teach and train and inspire our students to do through play therapy and counseling others with compassion and competence.”

One example is the young boy who came to the clinic this past year who had problems after his parents divorced. One day he told his teacher that he wanted to kill himself. The school counselor referred his family to the UNT Dallas clinic. The boy demonstrated overly aggressive behaviors in the playroom that were of “clinical significance,” Green said. “Some of them were violently disturbing.”

They worked with the family and began to suspect that something bad was going on, so Child Protective Services was brought in. That is a difficult step, Green said, but “ultimately we are here to work with families to provide protection for our most vulnerable clients.”

Students do roughly 18 months of coursework before they are allowed to see clients in the clinic. Sixteen to 20 students work in the clinic each semester seeing three to five clients a week. After they graduate, they must attain 3,000 clinical hours to get their LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor) license in Texas.

Kevin Nesmith is a full-time teacher at Roosevelt High School in Dallas and pursues his master’s in counseling in the evenings. He called the counseling program very challenging and very rewarding.

“I’ve learned so much and had the advantage of what I believe to be some of the best educators that I could possibly have by virtue of their example.” Nesmith said working in the clinic was an ideal experience to apply all the things he learned in the classroom. “It provided a really balanced experience of working with clients and having group supervision.”

Virginia Lott was a special education teacher in Arlington for six years before enrolling at UNT Dallas. She also is in an internship at Sundance Hospital in Arlington. Interns from other universities have told her that they didn’t get the clinic experience she got at UNT Dallas.

“Seeing clients in the clinic really prepared me for my internship and gave me real-world experience,” Lott said.

The clinic is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. A doctor’s referral is not required, and the cost is $10 per 50-minute session. The clinic is available to children, adults and families who are struggling with such issues as relationships, death, sadness, resentment, major changes in life and many other emotionally difficult situations.

Clients meet once a week with a counselor who is not judgmental and is trained to help them share their story and give them skills to cope with whatever stressors they may be facing, Green said.

“If you’re an adult and you’re feeling fatigued a lot and you’ve gone to a medical doctor and there’s nothing physically wrong with you, maybe you’re sad or crying or angry a lot or you frequently have ruptured relationships; these are signposts that you may benefit by visiting with a caring professional,” Green said.

Parents whose kids are acting out in school or showing unique behaviors can come in and see if their child is a candidate for play therapy. They play out themes that they’re grappling with through doll houses, sand play, puppets, artwork or costumes and work on resolutions.

The clinic is undergoing renovations this summer, and one day recently two large doll houses—gifts from the KidKraft toy company—were mostly assembled in the waiting room. Green also received a shipment of new puppets to use in play therapy.

“We’re excited because the kids are going to love the puppets. We are training our students how to use puppets to help kids externalize difficult dialogue. They often find it easier with puppets and other developmentally appropriate and creative mechanisms,” Green said.

Nesmith called the counseling program and the clinic two well-kept secrets in southern Dallas County. “Many people could benefit from the services that are offered,” he said. “It is a tremendous resource for the community.”

To make an appointment, call (972) 780-3646. For more information about play therapy, visit the Association for Play Therapy website at ....

 

For More Information:
Gregory Tomlin
Executive Director of Marketing and Communications
(972) 780-3615
(817) 798-9260 (Cell)
greg.tomlin@unt.edu