Counseling center moves to more convenient location

By Enedelia J. Obregón
Senior Correspondent

The Diocese of Austin Family Counseling Office moved to a larger space to better serve its clients. The move to 1625 Rutherford Ln., Building B, in Austin puts the counseling center in the same complex as Catholic Charities of Central Texas, thus making it easier for clients to access comprehensive services. 
Bishop Joe Vásquez blessed the newly renovated offices on March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph. The bishop said it was appropriate to do so on that day because St. Joseph took care of the Holy Family.
Bishop Vásquez said expanding counseling services is important because families are the “cells” that make up the domestic church and thus, society. In order for society –– and the church –– to be healthy, families need to be healthy.
“We need to strengthen our families,” the bishop said. “We need to be aware of what they need. Families are struggling with issues such as divorce, illness and elderly parents.”
Lupe García has been the counseling center director since 2011, and a member of the diocesan staff for eight years. She is a licensed professional counselor and licensed marriage and family therapist who is a board certified supervisor for both licenses. 
García said the extra space will allow the ministry to have more practicum students from St. Edward’s University and Texas State University. Depending on the graduate program, the students must obtain 150-300 hours of supervised experience per semester. Then after taking the licensing exam, they must continue to obtain 3,000 hours of supervised clinical work in counseling before they can get their licenses.
Previously, the ministry had been in a crowded office at the Pastoral Center, which flooded twice last fall. At the new center there is room for the staff of 10, including eight counselors, six of whom are students. Three staff members can assist clients in English and Spanish, and García plans to eventually hire another full-time, bilingual staff member.
In the new space, two counselors share each office, and there are rooms set aside for individual, group, family and couples counseling. The center also offers grief and loss counseling. One room is filled with an assortment of toys for play therapy for young children. 
“Kids don’t communicate the way adults do,” García said. “Trained play therapists are able to help children communicate their feelings through play.”
Clients pay on a sliding scale, the fee is $90, but “we give discounted rates to people based on annual income and number of people in the family,” she said.
For the practicum students who are studying to be counsellors, the move has been “wonderful,” said Sharon Charles.
“There’s room to grow plus we’re next to a lot of social services that many clients need,” she said.
Not being crammed together also reduces the stress for people who may feel uncomfortable seeking counseling.
“It’s sad that people see counseling as a negative,” said Dawn Boyd. “It’s about helping people work things through.”
García, who earned her master’s in counseling from St. Edward’s University, has worked with the diocese since 2005, with some time in private practice before becoming the director of the program. As she has worked with families, she has witnessed the stress parents and children experience in today’s world.
She said no matter who walks through the doors of the counseling center, they have one thing in common: they are in pain and need help.
They could be children of divorce, individuals who are divorced and are trying to heal from the trauma, those grieving the deaths of loved ones, those suffering from depression or those whose marriages are floundering and need help.
“A lot of it may just be lack of communication skills,” García said. “Or it may be different parenting styles. Unemployment has also caused a lot of depression and grief, loss and anxiety. Depression is rampant in society.”
Whatever the issues may be, “those issues are real,” she said. “We help people strengthen their relationships by giving them the skills they need to work things out.”
Being faith-based also allows counselors to use Catholic teachings to minister to clients. This is especially important in marriage counseling.
“Marriage is sacred,” García said. “It’s not just about being happy or not being happy. We have to defend the sacrament and help people work through the rough spots.”
She said some expect their counselors to give them all the answers, instead counselors guide people to find their own solutions.
“I’m an expert in a sense of helping people navigate,” García said. “But you’re the expert on your life.”
Being in a Catholic environment means it’s acceptable to pray and to talk about faith, García said. Each client is recognized as a child of God, even in the bleakest of situations.
“Not all clients are Catholic,” she said. “But the sacredness of family is something we all understand.”
For information or to make an appointment, visit www.austindiocese.org/counseling or call (512) 651-6152. Appointments at the Austin location can be made Monday-Thursday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and the satellite office at St. Anthony Marie de Claret Parish in Kyle is open on Mondays from 3:30 to 8:30 p.m.

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