UNM Specialty Clinics hidden campus gem

UNM Specialty Clinics

The University of New Mexico has many hidden gems sprinkled throughout campus. One of the lesser-known gems is the UNM Specialty Clinics, operated by the Department of Psychology and open to the public for services. Three “specialty” area clinics include the Alcohol Specialty Clinic, the Anxiety Disorders Specialty Clinic and the Cultural Counseling Center.

The Alcohol Specialty Clinic opened in 2011, while the Cultural Counseling Center is a more recent addition. The Anxiety Disorders Clinic is scheduled to re-open in January 2015. The clinics came about after faculty in the UNM Psychology Department decided to establish these specialty clinics within the general Department of Psychology Clinic to provide unique services.

The clinics offer an individualized, collaborative approach, including specific empirically-supported treatments provided primarily by doctoral students in the UNM clinical psychology training program. The students are supervised by clinical psychology faculty with extensive experience and nationally recognized expertise in working with clients with concerns in these clinical areas. Students’ work in the specialty clinics is not academic, but rather is focused on gaining supervised clinical experiences.

“These clinics reflect the latest trends in clinical science in that they represent a shift both in how treatment is provided and how treatment providers are trained,” said Distinguished Professor of Psychology Barbara McCrady, who is also the director of the Center on Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Addictions or CASAA. “We use treatments with strong scientific studies showing that these treatments work.  Many of the treatments were developed by the UNM faculty who supervise students in these clinics, which is an added benefit.”

The process by which the specialty clinics came about was unique according to Clinic Director Dan Matthews. The idea came from the faculty, who wanted students to have clinical experiences that matched an evolving science-based training model of the Department. But much of the impetus and energy for the formation of the alcohol specialty clinic, the first of three, came from the bottom up, from the doctoral students themselves.

Under the guidance of Dr. McCrady, about at dozen students met regularly to design and implement the philosophy, assessment, treatment and procedures for that clinic. They named it Alcohol Treatment at UNM or simply @UNM and even developed a logo. The students then published a paper on how to start a specialty clinic model based on their experiences in starting the alcohol clinic

“In the 1970s, students received training in different settings around town,” Matthews said. “The Psychology Department wanted a core clinic operated by professionals with intense student supervision.”

That was the general Department of Psychology Clinic, which has served the community with assessment and treatment of psychological problems while also training students. When specialty clinics were envisioned by the faculty around 2008, the broad concepts were developed by Dr. McCrady, Dr. Elizabeth Yeater and Dr. Matthews. “The Psychology Clinic has an atmosphere where good clinical work takes place. It enables our students to develop as people and clinicians.”

The clinics offer an affordable sliding scale to help make services available to the uninsured. The clinic cannot bill Medicare, Medicaid and most insurance companies.

For more information call the UNM Department of Psychology Clinic at (505) 277-5165. Callers can leave a message for the clinic staff, who will return their call in a 24-hour period.

Alcohol Specialty Clinic
Services for alcohol problems include an assessment provided to each client, individual therapy, family therapy, couples therapy, group therapy, relapse prevention and referrals. The treatment plans are individualized to clients’ specific goals and needs. Methods utilized include motivational interviewing, cognitive behavioral therapy, community reinforcement approach or CRA, behavioral couple therapy, and mindfulness-based relapse prevention.

“We have a good assessment approach that uses a scientifically valid set of interviews and questionnaires about drinking as well as other problems and concerns that tells us whether or not we can help a client,” McCrady said.

CRA is an alcohol treatment approach that aims to achieve abstinence by decreasing positive reinforcement for drinking and enhancing positive reinforcement for sobriety. CRA integrates several treatment components, including building the client’s motivation to quit drinking, helping the client initiate sobriety, analyzing the client’s drinking pattern, increasing positive reinforcement, learning new coping behaviors and involving significant others in the recovery process.

McCrady noted that in cognitive behavioral therapy, “we teach certain skills including how to identify risky situations, do something different (rather than drinking), cope with negative emotions, handle cravings and urges, and develop other means to achieve desired outcomes without alcohol.”

“We think clients are receiving exceptionally good care,” McCrady said. “They receive well-defined training every year under close supervision. I’m impressed with the quality and the organization of the students and the commitment of their supervisors.”

Anxiety Disorders Specialty Clinic
The Anxiety Disorders Specialty Clinic will offer specialized treatment starting in January. “Anxiety isn’t specific,” said Elizabeth Yeater, an associate professor in the UNM Department of Psychology and clinical psychologist with extensive experience treating both disorders, supervises the therapists. “It’s a vague term referring to panic disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), where people fear germs and other contamination for example.”

The clinic will treat five disorders including PTSD and OCD, which are fairly well-known. Other disorders treated include panic disorder, general anxiety and social anxiety disorders involving negative social situations where clients have difficulty interacting. The sessions typically involve 9-12 treatments. Clients remain in the situation until the anxiety is cut in half. It’s called in vivo where clients practice outside of the treatment.”

Cultural Counseling Center
The Cultural Counseling Center offers a confidential source of help for clients who would like diversity and cultural issues integrated into counseling. This involves diversity areas such as race, ethnicity, nationality, age, gender, sexual orientation, poverty, religion/spirituality, different abilities and any other group that is unserved or underserved. This clinic also offers consultation services to other student clinicians who may encounter a client with considerable diversity-related issues for which the student has limited knowledge or skills. 

The Cultural Counseling Center is led by Assistant Professor Kamilla Venner (Alaska Native – Athabascan) and Associate Professor Steven Verney (Alaska Native – Tsimshian) and has focus areas that include stress, anxiety, depression, substance use problems, relationships, difficulties adjusting to a new environment, culture or situation, and significant changes in a client’s ability to perform at work, school, home, in relationships or other areas of your life.

“Diversity includes ability and disability, race, religion, sexuality and socioeconomic diversity,” Venner said. “As clinicians, we might be missing the big picture if we don’t understand the cultural aspect of our clients.”

“There are barriers to treatment,” said Verney. “If we don’t understand the culture of a client, there is a potential for misdiagnosis, ineffective treatment, or further alienation. We focus on New Mexico’s diverse populations, which span all diverse dimensions and especially significant Hispanic and Native American populations.”