Graduate student Heidi Hernandez receives hands-on training in sand tray therapy techniques. (Photos: ThuyMinh Mimi Nguyen)
In a toy-strewn second-floor suite in the Art & Education building, graduate students sit in small groups placing plastic toys in low trays of sand and taking notes. They’re in training to run play therapy for clients, including young children, seeking help at Cal State East Bay’s Community Counseling Center.
The Community Counseling Center in the Department of Educational Psychology has been operating for more than 30 years, when it was established as professional training lab for graduate students earning degrees in school counseling or school psychology as well as marriage and family counseling. It’s one of several service-based learning programs at CSUEB that leverage the resources of the university environment to build healthy communities in the East Bay region.
Associate Professor Janet Logan, Ph.D., the center director, said the opportunity to work in such a unique, community-minded environment attracted her to the university.
“This is one of the few centers to focus on children and families in underserved areas,” she said. “These are families under the greatest stress with unemployment, poverty, violence or abuse. They need more resources, and we can be advocates for them.”
During the academic year, the student-run clinic is open three days a week, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., offering services to community members with low fees on a sliding scale based on income.
This year, the center launched a new, free counseling program for low-income Hayward residents — the Strength Project, funded by a two-year grant from the Eden Township Healthcare District. In addition to expanding couples and family therapy, the project offers infant-led play therapy for children and parents, called Watch, Wait and Wonder, as well as group sessions on effective parenting. The parenting program began the first week of March for parents of elementary-age children; later sessions will target parents of preschoolers and teenagers, respectively.
Most clients come in for 10-week sessions. Graduate students receive extensive training and then work directly with clients under supervision from faculty, including Jack Davis, the department chair; director Logan; Professor Greg Jennings; Associate Professor Rolla Lewis; Assistant Professor Oanh Tran; and the center’s assistant director and community liaison, Hamilton Baylon.
The sessions are solution-focused, which Logan describes as using positive coping strategies to work toward desired outcomes.
“We want to give people tools so they don’t dwell on problems too long,” said recent graduate Baylon ’98, M.S. ’10. “Because it’s not the first or last time they’re going to face challenges.”
Each week, students working in the center see approximately 50 clients, who either contact the clinic independently or have been referred by community or social service agencies. (They do not offer services to CSUEB students, faculty or staff.) That’s an increase of more than 600 percent from only two years ago, and still rising, Logan said. But unlike other free or low cost clinics, she noted that they can still offer most clients a very short waiting period, or no wait at all.
Baylon’s position is also funded through the Eden Township grant. There are no full time counselors or staff members, but all graduate students in an Educational Psychology program must spend at least a year in the clinic. Many, including Baylon, continue after they’ve met their required hours.
Additional hours do help students earn their professional Marriage and Family Therapy intern licensure, Logan explained, but it’s also a strong sense of social justice that keeps them engaged. “They want to work with these people, who are often marginalized and disenfranchised,” she said. “They want to see clients, they want that knowledge.”
To learn more about services at the Community Counseling Center, contact Hamilton Baylon at 510.885.3977.