Funded Partner Spotlight: West Texas Counseling & Guidance
Situated inside the historic, elegant Cactus Hotel (the fourth ever Hilton hotel built in 1929), lies the new, modern, loft-style location of West Texas Counseling & Guidance — a funded partner of Methodist Healthcare Ministries since 2013. As the elevator doors open to the sixth floor, the juxtaposition of the grand luxurious hotel building dissipates to an inviting, cozy, serene space, well-suited for patients seeking mental health treatment.
As a nonprofit, West Texas Counseling & Guidance works to ensure individuals and families seeking mental health treatment have access to counseling services, regardless of their socioeconomic status and ability to pay. The objective of the organization is to help individuals learn to heal themselves in mind, body, and spirit utilizing evidence-based practices that are effective, affordable, and promote personal development and independence.
With about 20 counselors on staff, services include individual counseling, couples counseling, family therapy, children and adolescent counseling, veteran services, PTSD counseling, grief and loss support, addiction support, eating disorder counseling and depression and anxiety counseling. With help from Methodist Healthcare Ministries, two play therapists — fully licensed clinicians with specialized training in treating problems with children using the natural language and process of play — are employed. Off-site services are also available at churches and Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) in seven surrounding rural sites: Brady, Menard, Mason, Eden, Junction, Ozona and Sonora.
Operating since 1976, West Texas Counseling & Guidance has grown out of two previous locations, and in 2016 saw a 25 percent increase in clients from the previous year with approximately 2,500 patients for more than 11,000 sessions. With a new location (equipped with double insulation for sound proof rooms, open spaces, and a welcoming staff), West Texas Counseling & Guidance expects to grow more and looks forward to assisting more patients.
Dusty McCoy, LPC-S, executive director at West Texas Counseling & Guidance, shares more on his organization’s mission of providing the highest quality counseling and educational services for all residents of the Concho Valley.
Q: What does West Texas Counseling & Guidance offer?
We’re a nonprofit counseling center that’s been in existence for 41 years. Our clients range in age from 3 years old to 93 years old. Our approach is cognitive behavior therapy that’s short-term and goal-oriented; our goal is to teach people to become their own therapist. Some need long-term therapy, but our goal is to get you where you need to be and give you skills to move forward and not need us. We provide counseling regardless of insurance or inability to pay. Basically, access to mental health services is what we’re all about. The whole thing is about breaking down barriers for people to have access to mental health services.
We offer a sliding scale fee that goes to zero. I was really adamant about that. Some have suggested that patients at least pay $5-10 to give it a sense of value, but with psychotherapy counseling, for example, treatment starts off at once a week. If someone’s on the verge of homelessness or unemployed, taking $10 a week adds up to $40 a month, and when you’re struggling for food and a place to live that $40 hinders you from getting treatment.
Q: What are some prominent issues in the San Angelo community?
Every year since 2000, our community has had higher than average state and national suicide rates. I think it goes back to stigma, not feeling comfortable to go to therapy. In 2016, only 11 percent of our clients were 50 years or older, and only 36 percent were male. If you look at who are dying by suicide in this community, it’s white males over 50; those are the people that aren’t coming in and accessing mental health services. It’s important for us to break down the stigma. We’re trying to work on all fronts. Anything we could do to increase access is important: breaking down stigmas, providing affordable counseling and offering high-quality services.
Q: What resources are available for those struggling with suicide?
We have a survivor of suicide group with over 20 people that meet weekly: the LOSS Team. The importance of the LOSS Team is when someone has a loved one that dies by suicide, they themselves are at a much higher risk of dying of suicide, 64 percent higher. Those that have lost loved ones to suicide typically take 4.5 years to get help on their own; with the LOSS Team, we can reduce that down to 30-45 days. We take an active approach. We have a veteran’s outreach coordinator who goes to vets and brings them in. Our local outreach to suicide survivors is the same concept, we go to them. In July, we’ll have a live response program; if someone dies by suicide, we’ll go to the scene, wrap services around them, and bring them in for help.
Q: Do you believe the stigma of mental health is decreasing?
Definitely. The average age of our patients is 29. We see a lot of kids, 42 percent of our clients are children, and there’s no stigma with them. They’re more comfortable coming in, just as they would for any other medical condition. I think we’re making progress. I know we have a lot more work to do with the older population, but I think we’ve made progress with younger generations.
We’re trying to overcome stigmas. Tiffany Talley, our director of development and community relations, does a lot of community outreach on what resources are available and that it’s OK to come in. In Texas, there’s a bootstrap mentality. People find it hard to come in; they believe it’s a sign of weakness, so a lot of what we do is education and we work to get prominent citizens to come out and join the conversation, and it’s effective.
Q: How has Methodist Healthcare Ministries’ partnership helped West Texas Counseling & Guidance?
In 2016, Methodist Healthcare Ministries funding totaled 29 percent of West Texas Counseling & Guidance’s total budget. We just couldn’t do what we’re doing without Methodist Healthcare Ministries. We couldn’t see the people we’re seeing, provide counseling at our rural sites, or provide low-cost or free counseling. If we weren’t at those rural sites, and if it weren’t for Methodist Healthcare Ministries’ funding of those FQHC partnerships, most likely people would go without help there. We also do constant referrals back and forth with Methodist Healthcare Ministries’ Wesley Nurses, and the grants department has even helped us with other grants and has helped put us in contact with other organizations that give us guidance if we have a problem or need help, so it’s been a fantastic partnership. On every level, Methodist Healthcare Ministries has impacted this community and our organization.
Q: How will this new location help even more?
Being in a nice, new location like this definitely helps people feel comfortable. I think it’s going to bring more clients that maybe wouldn’t have come in the past. Methodist Healthcare Ministries came in at a substantial level to make this a reality.
Q: What is your outlook for the future?
It makes you feel good when you see someone who went through so much distress change their life around. They learn to become their own therapist and live life again. What we’re hoping for, our goal on a bigger level as far as impact, is to look back in three to five years and say that we’re not higher than the state or national average on suicide. To see something of that magnitude improve through our services and outreach … that’s the overarching goal of what we’re doing.
To learn more about West Texas Guidance & Counseling, visit www.sanangelocounseling.org.
This interview was conducted with Dusty McCoy, executive director at West Texas Counseling & Guidance, and Tiffany Talley, director of development & community relations, May 31, 2017, at West Texas Counseling and Guidance’s new location, by Jennifer Perez, Communications Coordinator II at Methodist Healthcare Ministries. Photos by Methodist Healthcare Ministries multimedia production coordinator, Dustin Wenger.