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Texas Border Business

By Maria Elena Hernandez

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – The UTRGV Counseling Center knows students may be struggling with loneliness, anxiety, depression or other mental health issues in light of changes to their physical environment – like stay-at-home orders and the shift to online classes – because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 



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The department’s original plan to provide tele-counseling service for UTRGV School of Medicine students quickly expanded to include all university students.

Dr. Christopher Albert, director of the UTRGV Counseling Center, said that, like almost everyone these days, the center constantly is modifying its operations to adjust to what’s going on with the COVID-19 outbreak.

“All of our clinical staff and interns have been trained in providing tele-counseling services,” he said. “It goes by different names. It can be called tele-mental health counseling or tele-health counseling. And that’s through the Skype for Business or UTRGV Zoom platforms. Both are secure platforms that protect privacy.”

Students can sign up for a tele-counseling session by calling the UTRGV Counseling Center at (956) 665-2574.

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NEW SUPPORT GROUP

Maria Alejandra Mazariegos, a clinical therapist with the UTRGV Counseling Center, said there has been interest in which services the counseling center will provide. Many people weren’t necessarily looking for therapy, but rather, a platform to share concerns.

“In response to that, the counseling center is rolling out the Vaqueros All In This Together support group,” Mazariegos said. “It’s open to any UTRGV student who wants to chime in and wants to find a way to connect during this time in which, for safety reasons, we’re staying apart.”

The support group will meet at 2:30 p.m. Thursdays, via Zoom, at https://utrgv.zoom.us/j/158763667.

PHYSICAL DISTANCING 

The UTRGV Counseling Center is following and encouraging others to take precautionary measures to stop the spread of COVID-19. However, they said the phrase “social distancing” may be misunderstood. 

“They’re using the wrong verbiage. It should not be ‘social distancing.’ It should be ‘physical distancing.’ We should be more socially close. And there are many ways of doing that,” Albert said. 

Addie Wieland, a UTRGV Counseling Center supervising clinical therapist, said that just because students have to practice “social distancing” doesn’t mean that they can’t have social interaction with their friends or loved ones. 

“Because we’re social beings, right? We like to be with people. We like to connect with people,” she said. Wieland said social interactions will look different for a while. 

RECOVERY GROUPS ONLINE 

In addition to the tele-counseling service and the new support group, the UTRGV Collegiate Recovery Program has moved meetings online via Zoom. To get the Zoom meeting link, students should email [email protected].

Below is the meeting schedule: 

Monday 12 p.m. – Women’s Recovery Support Group 6:30 p.m. – All Recovery Group Tuesday 10 a.m. – All Recovery Group 6:30 p.m. – All Recovery Group  Wednesday 11 a.m. – SMART Recovery  Thursday 10 a.m. – All Recovery Group 12 p.m. – Growth Support Group  Friday 12 p.m. – All Recovery Group  RELATED LINK: UTRGV program offers help for students struggling with addiction

VAQUERO CRISIS LINE 

Albert, the counseling center director, said some students may with isolation more than others. “That can exacerbate anxiety and also depression and can increase the risk of suicide,” he said. The Vaqueros Crisis Line is a confidential helpline available to UTRGV students 24 hours a day and seven days a week. The Crisis Line number is (956) 665-5555. 

MORE ONLINE RESOURCES 

The UTRGV Counseling Center shared other online tools available to students, such as the Thrive at UT self-help app. It’s available free on Google Play and the App Store. When first opening the app, users can select UTRGV as their school. TAO Connect is another online option for students. TAO stands for “Therapy Assistance Online.”

The website offers a self-guided self-help tool, which students can sign up for with their UTRGV email address. 

STUDENT TIPS  

For university students looking for quick tips, the UTRGV Counseling Center suggested making and following a schedule. Tabitha Rodriguez, a student worker at the counseling center, said the changes were rough, at first, but creating a schedule helped. She also is focusing on the positive.  

“As a college student, it’s kind of hard to be with family, so this can be a good opportunity for us to get a little bit more connected, which is really good,” she said. 

Fellow student worker Paola Rivas, a clinical rehabilitation counseling graduate student from McAllen, encourages students to be creative. A group chat with her friends, which includes Moustache Monday and Tacky Tuesday, has helped ease some of the tension. 

“It’s really creating a balance of accepting the seriousness of the situation, but also finding joy in some of the little things that we are able to do right now, from home,” she said. The UTRGV Counseling Center is sharing more tips on its social media accounts. 

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