One of Cal State Bakersfield's best kept secrets — the University Counselor Training Clinic — will soon reopen its doors to Bakersfield residents seeking individual, couple and family therapy. 

Under the supervision of clinic director Richard Zamora, second- and third-year graduate student clinicians provide low-cost services to community members of all ages in English and Spanish. Counseling costs $25 for the first session and $15 per session thereafter, but no client is ever turned away if they’re unable to pay.

The clinic will open Aug. 26, but former and new clients can begin making appointments Monday by calling 661-654-3402.

"The range of issues they come in with vary from everyday life adjustments such as moving into a new place, starting a new job, having a child," Zamora said, "from that to people who struggle and have been experiencing long-term depression, anxiety, a good range of mental health issues."

Graduate students leading sessions see up to five individual clients during their second year in the program. During their third year, they can apply to become a clinic manager and see up to 10 clients who include individuals, couples and families, or do their training at another clinic.

Last year saw a total of 80 to 120 clients. Zamora said they range from those who are interested in therapy for the first time to those who have been coming to the clinic for three to four years.

"We have long-term clients because we have excellent students providing sessions and supervisors who are examining their work. We have clients who are very appreciative," he said. "Part of our program is a cohort model. We take in about 18 to 20 students a year, and we get very close supervision of their clinical work."

All counseling sessions are supervised by a licensed marriage and family therapist and are videotaped for training purposes. The same confidentiality standards, laws and ethics are observed as any other clinic.

There are six rooms available for individual or couple counseling and two rooms for child and family therapy. Rooms have two-way mirrors so supervisors can observe sessions.

Kathy Dale, one of this year's clinic managers, said one of the biggest draws to CSUB's counseling program was that she could complete her clinical hours on campus. 

"You get out of the book and get to apply therapy," she said. "You don’t get that opportunity unless you have an on-campus clinic."

Once a teacher, Dale had a late-life divorce when she was 55 years old and wanted to stay in the workforce and add another chapter to her life. When she found out about the CSUB counseling program, she felt as though she had more to give before leaving the workforce.

Dale wants to work with spouses and children of active duty military personnel. She was a former military spouse, and her sons are Marines.

"I’ve benefited greatly from group therapy, and I thought I could be professionally ready to prepare people (for the road ahead)," she added.

The most valuable aspect of the program to Dale is that her clients trust her and invite her into their lives.

"I just think it’s such a privilege to be allowed to share in their journey. It’s a very personal, intimate time, and I think we were all overwhelmed that people allow us in their private life," she said. "That’s the most impactful thing I take away, the appreciation and honor that they would allow me in."

With so much help being done, why is this still regarded as CSUB's best-kept secret? Zamora believes it is because of the stigma attached to mental health and seeking help for it. But with a strong client caseload and more conversations about mental health, he believes the negative connotation people associate with it will lessen in the future.

"This helps to decrease the stigma of seeking help for mental health. It’s important to talk about mental health and ... get the word out to think about ways to improve people's lives," he said. "The more we talk about it, the less fearful people will be to seek services."

Zamora said he hopes to include group therapy services and expand the number of clinical managers available in the future.

His primary goal, however, is to continue the legacy founder Kathleen Ritter started in 1988. Ritter died Aug. 9, and Zamora said she was dedicated to helping students and others. Her obituary states, "On her last day in this world, she counseled a client and consulted with a colleague." She was even scheduled to supervise students this year despite retiring in 2016.

"How Dr. Ritter would describe this clinic is this is the heart of the program, and I would say that too," he said. "This was her baby ... I learned so much from her."

Ema Sasic can be reached at 661-395-7392. Follow her on Twitter: @ema_sasic.

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