Vanguard University hopes to help the journey to mental health

Dalila Perea was born and raised in Santa Ana.

He attended Washington Elementary School, McFadden Intermediate and Saddleback High. But one thing she didn’t hear much about growing up in her Latin community was talking about mental health or counseling.

Instead, there is often an image of machismo to advocate, he said.

“I’m at such a disadvantage,” Perea said. “Most people are just trying to feed their bellies. When you’re just trying to feed your family, the last thing on your plate is understanding what I’m feeling, what my emotions are. You’re in survival mode … so I’ll just stick to shame therapy and pretend I don’t need it because I can’t have that luxury for myself.

Perea attended Santa Ana College, then Vanguard University for both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in clinical psychology in 2016.

The fact that she has returned to Santa Ana to serve the community as a psychotherapist is exciting for her. She believes everyone can benefit from the new Journeys at Vanguard counseling center, which opened this spring in her hometown.

The unique center is a partnership between Vanguard’s graduate psychology program and the Journeys Counseling Ministry, founded by Rev. Randy Powell, which also has Orange County branches in Costa Mesa and Mission Viejo.

Dr. Brenda Gesell, left, the director of the clinical psychology degree program at Vanguard University, and Dalila Perea, a VU graduate and young consultant from Santa Ana, answer questions during an interview Wednesday.

(Scott Smeltzer / Personal Photographer)

Journeys at Vanguard offers a training center for Vanguard’s graduate clinical psychology program to students offering therapy under the supervision of licensed Journeys therapists. The net result for the community is low-cost mental health care.

Potential customers can submit a request on the Journeys website. They will be contacted by a therapist for a quick 10 minute phone call to determine their needs.

Brenda Gesell, director of Vanguard’s clinical psychology program, said the center opened in March and hosted a successful open house event on May 21.

“We already have six doctors on board,” Gesell said, adding that they are all Vanguard alumni. “By 2023, we want to have up to 20 and see up to 350 customers a week.”

Gesell sees the center as a full circle, as Powell was the first campus pastor at the Vanguard and was its supervisor when he was in the psychology degree program in 2000.

Anyone can visit the therapy center. Customers pay as they can, or don’t pay at all, if they can’t afford it. If so, donations will cover them through a scholarship program.

“We are joining with someone who understands the community,” Gesell said. “We’re also saying, ‘Let’s make sure it’s free. If you need it, we will give it to you for free. ‘ But if they can only pay $ 3 or $ 4, or $ 5 [per session], it may be helpful for them to switch to that. Then it is as if they are taking responsibility for the treatment. It shows the value of what they are doing, that they feel like they are contributing ”.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a mental health crisis is ongoing in Orange County. Suicide remains the second leading cause of death for people aged 34 or younger in California.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, in 2019, four times more people died from suicide than from alcohol-related traffic accidents.

Dr. Brenda Gesell, left, and Dalila Perea, a graduate of Vanguard University and a young consultant from Santa Ana.

Dr. Brenda Gesell, left, the director of the clinical psychology graduate program at Vanguard University, and Dalila Perea, a VU graduate and young consultant from Santa Ana.

(Scott Smeltzer / Personal Photographer)

“If children have been through trauma or adults have been through things, it may take a year or two to process those things,” Gesell said. “The insurance is only giving them a small piece. Sometimes it becomes a band-aid, where you’re not doing that deeper work of finding coping skills, ways to deal with grief instead of getting stuck. I think there is this myth in mental health that growth is linear … We need to understand that growth is circular. “

Although Powell is a pastor and Vanguard is a Christian university, Gesell said the program is open to all backgrounds and faiths. There are also telemedicine services offered, and Vanguard plans to launch an online program this fall.

“Then we can see anyone in California,” Gesell said.

Perea is thrilled with that prospect too, yet her thoughts often remain close to home. He said he wants to erase the stigma of therapy and welcomes the opportunity to do so in Santa Ana, a place he said is filled with “family and beautiful people, beautiful culture and a wonderful community”.

“Therapy is about creating a space where you are able to process some of those tensions, interactions, emotions so that it doesn’t become something bigger by constantly repressing it or hiding it under the rug,” Perea said. “Pretending it’s not there won’t make it go away, it’ll make it worse.”

He said anyone who might be cautious about coming to therapy has feelings that are totally valid. Perhaps partly due to her upbringing, Perea said she was “terrified” of starting therapy alone.

Eventually, though, she said the therapy made her a better wife, mother, and friend.

“Good things happen to people who choose to be brave,” he said. “I would encourage anyone who is even remotely thinking about therapy to be brave and do it. Everyone deserves a space to feel and to be, and that is what Journeys therapy offers, a place where people can be seen and heard. “

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