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Diversity of counseling staff enhances clinical services for Emory's diverse student body

February 14, 2018

By John Baker Brown, Campus Life

Emory’s office of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) is in the forefront as the university pursues its commitment to cultivate a more racially and socially just university community – moving from diversity to inclusion.

A department of Campus Life, CAPS is available to all Emory students and offers free, confidential services, including crisis intervention, community referrals, individual, couples, and group counseling, and more.

Effectively delivering such services to Emory’s diverse student body requires a diverse staff, according to Wanda Collins, PhD, a licensed psychologist, assistant vice president of Campus Life, and director of CAPS.

“From a social justice perspective, we believe that it’s important for all students to see their identities reflected in the CAPS staff,” Collins says. “We want every Emory student, regardless of background, to understand that we appreciate their unique struggles, and we provide a safe environment for exploring issues of oppression and marginalization that may impact their mental health and success as students.”

 CAPS staff

Counseling and Psychological Services team. (Photo courtesy of CAPS)

Building a diverse team

Since joining Emory in 2015, Collins has balanced the organization’s commitment to developing a diverse staff with the dramatic growth in demand for clinical services. CAPS has seen a 38 percent increase over the past five years. During the 2016-17 academic year alone, nearly 1,700 students sought clinical services, with an average of 5.8 sessions per student.

Staff turnover in recent years has allowed CAPS to hire six new clinical staff, including four people of color. Overall, 66 percent of the 32 clinical staff, administrative support staff, doctoral interns, post-graduate fellows, and contract therapists at CAPS are people who hold one or more marginalized identities. Four of the five administrative leadership positions at CAPS are held by women of color. The team also includes representatives from the international and LGBTQ communities. 

As Collins suggests, the diversity of her CAPS team reflects that of Emory’s student body. According to the Emory University Academic Profile for 2016-17, more than six in 10 Emory College students identify as female. Approximately 40 percent identify as white and 38 percent as African American or Black, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian or Pacific Islander, or Hispanic. Another 16 percent identify as non-resident alien.

“This is a strength of Emory, and the more we can do to cultivate and foster that diversity, the stronger our institution will be,” says Collins, who identifies as multi-racial and Asian American.

Katie Werner, PsyD, a licensed psychologist and associate director for training at CAPS, agrees that a diverse staff makes services more accessible and relatable to students. She adds that staff diversity also directly benefits staff in very important ways.

“For one thing, having a diverse staff also allows for multiple viewpoints and voices at the table,” says Werner, who identifies as a white woman. “That makes our staff more aware and helps us to make decisions that are informed by diverse perspectives.”

In addition to racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual diversity, CAPS staff members bring a variety of relevant personal experiences from their own college days to the services and support that they offer to Emory students.

“As a bilingual Latino, language is important in how I experience the world around me and connect to others,” says Luis Alvarez-Hernandez, a staff clinician and licensed clinical social worker (LCSW).

“It was important for me to be able to express myself in my native Spanish, and I had limited spaces for that as an undergraduate,” Alvarez-Hernandez adds. “There is a healing aspect in therapy to being able to speak your first language, your emotional language.”

Beyond staff diversity

Cynthia Whitehead-LaBoo, associate director for clinical services and a licensed psychologist with CAPS since 1993, agrees that when students request a counselor with whom they share specific identities, CAPS should try to accommodate them. However, she points out, CAPS staff are very effective at connecting with students regardless of cultural, racial, gender, or other backgrounds.

“Our commitment at CAPS is to help all students, regardless of their identities, whether they are from marginalized communities or privileged backgrounds,” says Whitehead-LaBoo, who identifies as an African American woman. “Our job is to help students stay in school, get the most out of their Emory experience, and go on to enjoy success throughout life.”

Werner concurs. “We are a group of helpers eager to make CAPS welcoming to every Emory student,” she says. “We are continually deepening our understanding of oppression, marginalization, privilege, and power as part of our ongoing commitment to serve every Emory student.”

Alvarez-Hernandez shares that commitment to Emory students. “Therapy is a dynamic process that can help us all grow and understand how we interact with our environment,” he says. “CAPS is a space for you to discover who you are, to be who you are and, if you choose, to reinvent who you are.”

How CAPS works

CAPS, located at 1462 Clifton Road, Suite 235, is open Monday through Friday, 8:30 to 5:00 p.m. Students can call 404.727.7450 to schedule an initial assessment appointment. During that assessment, the student will complete paperwork and meet with an intake counselor who will gather additional information about the student’s concerns and relevant background information.

From there, the intake counselor will work with the student to create a treatment plan that may include, for example, individual therapy, group therapy, participation in a stress management workshop, or referral to specialized or ongoing treatment in the community.

Learn more about CAPS

Schedule an appointment for counseling: 404.727.7450