Vanguard University hopes to support the journey to mental health

Delilah Perea was born and raised in Santa Ana.

She went to elementary school in Washington, McFadden Intermediate and Saddleback High. But one thing she didn’t hear much about growing up in her Latino community was talking about mental health or counseling.

Instead, the image of machismo often has to be maintained, she said.

“They are 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 to find out how I feel, what my emotions are. You are in a state of survival … so I will just be ashamed of the therapy and pretend I don’t need it because I can’t have this luxury for myself. ”

Perea went to Santa Ana College, then to Vanguard University for both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in clinical psychology in 2016.

The fact that she is returning to Santa Ana, serving the community as a psychotherapist, is exciting to her. She believes everyone can benefit from the new Avant-Garde Travel Advisory Center, which opened in her hometown this spring.

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

Dr. Brenda Gesell, left, director of Vanguard University’s master’s program in clinical psychology, and Delilah Perea, a VU graduate and young counselor from Santa Ana, answered questions during an interview Wednesday.

(Scott Smelzer / full-time photographer)

Journeys at Vanguard provides a training center for Vanguard’s Clinical Psychology Program for students who offer therapy while supervised by licensed Journeys therapists. The net result for the community is cheap mental health care.

Potential customers can make an inquiry on the Journeys website. A therapist will contact them 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 had a successful open-air event on May 21.

“We already have six clinicians,” Gezel said, adding that they were all Vanguard graduates. “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 pastor on the Vanguard campus and happened to be its head when he was in the 2000 master’s program in psychology.

Everyone is welcome to visit the therapy center. Customers pay as much as they can – or not at all if they can’t afford it. In this case, the donations will be covered by a scholarship program.

“We’re teaming up with someone who understands the community,” Gezel said. “We also say, ‘Let’s make sure it’s free.’ If you need it, we will give it to you for free. But if they can just pay $ 3 or $ 4 or $ 5 [per session], it may be useful for them to move on to this. Then it feels like they are taking responsibility for their treatment. It shows the value of what they do, that they feel they are contributing. ”

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

In 2019, four times more people died from suicide than from alcohol-related road accidents, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Dr. Brenda Gesell, left, and Delilah Perea, a university graduate

Dr. Brenda Gesell, left, director of Vanguard University’s master’s program in clinical psychology, and Delilah Perea, a VU graduate and young counselor from Santa Ana.

(Scott Smelzer / full-time photographer)

“If children have gone through trauma or adults have gone through things, it may take them a year or two to process those things,” Gezel said. “Insurance gives them only a small piece. Sometimes it becomes a band-aid, where you don’t do this in-depth work of finding coping skills, ways to grieve 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 denominations. Telehealth services are also available, and Vanguard plans to launch an online program this fall.

“Then we can see everyone in California,” Gezel said.

Perea is also excited by this prospect, but her thoughts often stay close to home. She said she wanted to erase the stigma of therapy and welcomed the opportunity to do so in Santa Ana, a place she said was filled with “family and beautiful people, beautiful culture and a wonderful community.”

“Therapy is to create a space where you can handle some of these tensions, interactions, emotions, so that it doesn’t become bigger by constantly suppressing or sweeping under the rug,” Perea said. “Pretending he’s gone won’t make him disappear – it’ll make him worse.”

She said that anyone who can be wary of coming to therapy has feelings that are completely valid. Perhaps in part because of her upbringing, Perea said she was “terrified” to start therapy on her own.

In the end, however, she said the therapy made her a better wife, mother and friend.

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

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