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COPE: UM Grad Students Gain Experience, Provide Affordable Counseling

Play Therapy Room

The University of Mississippi’s Clinic for Outreach and Personal Enrichment (COPE) is a hidden gem located in Insight Park just near the edge of campus.

The clinic offers counseling services to local residents in a variety of areas and much of the work at COPE is done by lead master’s and doctoral students in the School of Education (SOE) with support from experienced UM counseling faculty.

The clinic not only offers much-needed counseling services but provides valuable training for UM’s graduate students in counselor education, who receive a wealth of hands-on experience during their degree program.

COPE counselors work with children, adolescents and adults on a variety of issues including abuse, anxiety, depression, divorce, grief, parenting, sexual assault and more. On average, the clinic serves more than 50 clients each week.

Mark Showalter
Mark Showalter

“COPE serves as a training clinic for students in our counselor education program,” said Marc Showalter, COPE clinical coordinator and assistant professor of counselor education. “This serves as a clinic for our mental health counseling students, and in this particular clinic, we provide services to anyone in the community. We’re providing really great training for both our master’s and our doctoral students, but we’re providing services to the community, very often to a population that might not be able to access services so easily.”

The fee for services at the clinic starts at $180 per session with a doctoral student or $120 per session with a master’s student. However, there is a sliding scale for this fee based on income, and some clients only pay $15 per session. COPE also accepts Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurance.

During sessions, the students ask each client for permission to film his or her session and, if permission is granted, a supervisor – usually and faculty member or licensed doctoral student — observes the footage later. This procedure is in place to allow the students to receive feedback from an experienced professional, and all tapes are kept locked inside the clinic until they are erased after a supervisor views them.

Play therapy is a service that the clinic offers to the community. COPE is the only clinic in the area that provides play therapy on a large scale. Some clients travel more than 60 miles for their children to have access to play therapy at COPE.

Jennifer Austin Main
Jennifer Austin Main

Jennifer Austin-Main, a registered play therapist and a third-year doctoral student at UM, helped to create the clinic and focuses on play therapy.

“Play therapy is a therapeutic modality for children anywhere between the ages of 2 to 12 years old,” Austin-Main said. “Our motto is ‘play is a child’s language, and toys are their words.’ So, play therapy is a developmentally appropriate form of counseling for children who don’t yet have that verbal ability to tell us what their thinking or tell us what happened to them.”

img_6006COPE provides a special four-legged counselor to work with children, as well. Rook is a Sheltie therapy dog that belongs to Austin-Main and helps her during play therapy. He is registered with Love on a Leash and works with Main during her play therapy.

“He provides a great medium or bridge between the child and myself,” Main said. “Even though I try very hard to be a different adult, I’m still an adult in a child’s mind. Since dogs are very nonjudgmental and very authentic, typically children connect with them first before they do us. He can interact with them, and he gives them a feeling of safety and security before they feel it with us.”

Although play therapy is an important part of the services that the clinic offers, the master’s and doctoral students are also able to provide counseling to adults and adolescents in many areas.

James Strickland
James Strickland

“Besides children, we see teenagers and adults,” said James Strickland, fourth-year doctoral student. “Those services can range from drug addiction to depression and anxiety. Really, we just have a whole spectrum of services that we can provide based on what the client needs. We have someone who can work with anybody.”

Kassie Terrell, a third-year doctoral student with an interest in couples’ therapy and counseling for the LGBTQ community, enjoys the opportunity to grow as a professional and to learn about other areas of counseling.

“This has allowed me to get out of my comfort zone,” Terrell said. “Before, I only worked with adults, but now I work with kids. A lot of our master’s students are interested in LGBT clients, so I have something to offer them about how to work with that population. We also advocate in the community and go to pride parades. So for me, this clinic had a lot to do with the reason I came here and the opportunities it has for the students.”

With just more than one year of service to the LOU community, COPE staff and SOE faculty say the clinic will continue to provide much-needed services to the community.

“We don’t want to turn someone away because of an inability to pay,” Showalter said. “So while we’re conscious about trying to maintain the business side of it, what we really want to do is provide the service.”

For more information on COPE visit cope.olemiss.edu.

Amy Goodin is a writer for HottyToddy.com. She can be reached at argoodin12@gmail.com.

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