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Graduate Students Work to Provide Mental Health Care

Faculty and students at clinic
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NC State Clinical Counseling graduate students have recently been given an opportunity to work hands-on at the Community Counseling, Education and Research Clinic, or CCERC, founded solely by NC State faculty.

The idea for an NC State-run clinic began with Professor Marc Grimmett and Professor Helen Lupton-Smith. They wanted a clinic that could provide world-class mental health care services to people without health insurance.

The project was slow to take off due to lack of funding and workspace, but with a small grant from Raleigh College and Community Collaborative, the NC State counseling department partnered with the Wade Edwards Foundation and Learning Lab to create CCERC.

The Wade Edwards Foundation provides after-school programming to students, mainly high schoolers, for academic enrichment, tutoring and life skills. CCERC complements this program by offering mental health counseling for individuals, couples and families as well as career development in exchange for a necessary off-campus location. Their office is currently located on the first floor of the Wade Edwards Foundation Learning Lab on St. Mary’s Street in downtown Raleigh.

“Ideally, the university is a great location, but in order to be a true community counseling clinic we need to be located outside of NC State’s campus where there is more accessibility,” Grimmett said.

The clinic does not have 24-hour crisis care, psychiatry or medication management, but it is equipped to deal with common problems like life issues, relationship issues, anxiety, depression and more.

It is open to people of all ages, but most of the clients are of high-school age or older. What makes this clinic unique is its operation by NC State graduate students like Joni Agronin, a first-year master’s student. Grimmett, Agronin’s adviser, suggested CCERC for her required clinical internship. It seemed to be a perfect fit.

“I’m more interested in high school-aged students because it’s a naturally hard time, puberty and the stress of school, dating and friendships,” Agronin said. “I think teenagers are still written off as being kids, but they are facing real problems and challenges. They need support and someone to make sure that they feel heard.”

Graduate students provide the bulk of the services at CCERC. They facilitate all of the counseling, as well as work as clinical coordinators to assign clients to counselors, make appointments, take initial assessments and ensure that clients have everything they need throughout the process. While a lot of responsibility falls on students, there are faculty members in the clinic during all sessions. This is just one part of a multi-layered system of supervision.

“It’s pretty much the epitome of experiential education,” Agronin said. “I’m a first-year master’s student, and I am already seeing clients. I am essentially their therapist, and that is huge. Other programs just don’t offer something like that.”

CCERC strives to approach clinical health with a feminist and multicultural point of view where the voices of both faculty and students are heard. It stresses the importance of cultural competence in the mental health field.

“Our students are trained to be culturally competent so that any client from whatever background and whatever personal identity will be fully welcomed and treated with respect and dignity,” Grimmett said. “That’s not extra, that’s basic.”

In the long run, CCERC hopes to be a model for community counseling that is culturally inclusive, promotes social justice and maintains the goal of getting people the help they need regardless of income.

“I think we’re helping to start a conversation,” Agronin said. “North Carolina is a state where it can be difficult to get health insurance and find good mental health coverage. Bringing awareness to that is one of the biggest things we’re bringing to the community right now.”