Recreation and Wellness Center, 1604 Campus
UTSA Life: UTSA Counseling Services offers comprehensive program of crisis services to assist students
By Lynn Gosnell
Special Projects Writer
(June 23, 2008)--UTSA Counseling Services is home to support groups, learning assessments and advice for managing life's hurdles. This is the last of three stories on the continuum of care offered to UTSA students by Counseling Services. The first story centered on services concerning developmental issues, the second on adjustment issues and this one on crisis intervention.
For students facing serious physical, emotional or mental health crises, UTSA Counseling Services offers a comprehensive program of crisis services aimed to assist students who are victims of sexual assault and students who are at risk of harm to themselves and others.
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Jessica Muniz, a staff clinician in counseling services, provides education about the prevention and treatment of sexual assault and partner violence, and advocates for victims of sexual assault and partner violence. She carries a telephone 24/7 for calls related to sexual assault that go to campus police.
However, many students do not want to report sexual assault. Victims often know their assailant, for example, or the assault may have occurred at a party, and the victim feels somewhat responsible. When Muniz is made aware of a student who may have had this experience, she meets directly with them.
"I try to give information so that students can make informed decisions for themselves," Muniz says. "To advocate for the victim is to have the knowledge to give them the information they need about the different agencies who might assist [students] on many different levels of care," says Muniz.
These resources include the local hospital where SANE (sexual assault nurse examine) exams take place, the Rape Crisis Center, the Office of the District Attorney and various resources provided by the State of Texas.
One resource that crime victims may not be aware of, says Muniz, is the State of Texas crime victims compensation fund, which is available to victims of violent crime, including sexual assault and partner violence. This fund may pay for relocation, medical bills and other needed services.
Counseling Services collaborates closely (with students' consent) with the UTSA Office of Judicial Affairs and UTSA Police Department when sexual assaults are reported, reaching out to the victim in the most sensitive way possible. Staff also conducts prevention programs for safety and awareness throughout the year.
One of the most serious issues on college campuses today is suicide prevention. UTSA Counseling Services offers interventions and referrals to students at risk of harm to self or others.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college-age students.
"Suicide isn't just one issue," says Elizabeth Stanczak, executive director of student health and counseling services. What puts students at greatest risk is often a dangerous combination of despair or great loss coupled with some kind of substance that impairs judgment and increases impulsivity, she notes.
Counseling Services maintains a 24/7 schedule for crisis intervention and a serious incident response program that will make contact with any student who they learn are at risk of self-harm. There is always an on-call counseling staff member available who the police will call if they get a report of a student in serious trouble. "There's always somebody willing to talk and to listen," Stanczak says.
Staff members provide training to residential staff, learning communities, sororities and fraternities, advisers and others to teach about the risks, signs and symptoms, and myths of suicide.
One of the formal training programs counseling services offers is called QPR for Suicide Prevention, standing for Question, Prompt and Refer, a technique developed at the University of Washington. Students, faculty and staff are encouraged to attend.
"When someone says, 'I don't think I can go on anymore,' you ask them, 'What does that mean?'" Stanczak explains. The prompt is, "Do you have a plan? Why don't you go talk to somebody?" The next step is to refer. "Refer them to some professional in the community, whether it's to counseling services, a hospital, call an ambulance, the police... anything to keep them safe," says Stanczak.
"This is not a treatment. This is merely trying to help someone understand what it is to a friend, to get somebody what they need," says Stanczak, a licensed QPR trainer.
Overcoming a perceived stigma or seeking help for a potentially serious issue is a struggle, say staff. Students often fear that a record of seeking help in a crisis will go on their academic records or that they will get kicked out of school. This is not the case, say UTSA Counseling Services staff members.
"We want to get the word out that help-seeking behavior is normal, healthy and appropriate," Stanczak says.
NOTE: Volunteers are always needed for violence prevention work to plan and present campus-wide education and awareness projects, CS staff say. Students who wish to volunteer at the Women's Resource Center or become a peer educator for the organization CURE (Campus United for Respect and Education) can contact Melissa Hernandez or Jessica Muniz at (210) 458-4140.
- Recreation and Wellness Center Room 1.810, 1604 Campus, (210) 458-4140
- Buena Vista Street Building Room 1.308, Downtown Campus, (210) 458-2930
Students can schedule an appointment or, for a first visit, they are encouraged to come in during walk-in hours, which change each semester. Check the Web site for walk-in hours.