NACOGDOCHES, Texas — The Counseling Clinic at Stephen F. Austin State University is accepting new clients and temporarily waiving all fees during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Though in-person appointments aren’t possible as SFA students shelter in place in their hometowns and residents in Nacogdoches County follow stay-at-home orders, the clinic is helping clients by phone and Zoom from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Appointments on Fridays and after 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday also can be made by calling (936) 468-1041.

The Counseling Clinic is part of the Department of Human Services and Educational Leadership in the James I. Perkins College of Education at SFA. It assists SFA students and community members while training graduate students who are in the practicum and internship portion of their education. These graduate students provide counseling services to clients under the supervision of licensed counselor education faculty members.

Counseling Clinic services include individual, parent and child, couples, family, and group therapy, as well as career planning and development.

Clients contact the clinic for help with issues that include anger management, anxiety, career counseling, depression, divorce, employment-seeking skills, grief, life adjustments (for example, homesickness), marriage counseling, parenting, problem-solving, social skills, stress management, substance abuse, test anxiety and time management.

Despite the anxiety and stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, fewer people are calling the clinic for help, according to Nashae Turner, director of the Counseling Clinic.

“We’ve seen a decrease in requests for services; however, I believe there is an increase in need,” Turner said. “Those who need it are not aware we are available or are unaware that we’ve found ways to work around barriers.”

These barriers include limited or no internet service, inexperience with video conferencing technology, lack of privacy as family members shelter in place together and share equipment, and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act regulations.

“Because we are an instructional clinic, the sessions are all observed either live or on video,” Turner said. “Due to HIPAA regulations, we are unable to record Zoom sessions, so I or other faculty members must sit in on the sessions to monitor graduate students.”

Clients are informed of this policy when they attend sessions in person at the Counseling Clinic, but “they’re not actually aware when it is going on,” Turner said. “With Zoom, they can see when we are monitoring, and that can be uncomfortable for many clients.”

Turner wants to assure community members and SFA students that they can still get the help they need from the clinic.

“I am working closely with Dr. Robbie Steward, the department chair; Dr. Wendy Killam, the Master of Arts counseling program director; and Dr. Leigh Kirby, training director, to stay connected with our community member and student clients while assuring continued compliance with HIPAA and the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs training standards during this pandemic,” Turner said.

“We have been able to continue services for most of our clients through Zoom, and we are pleased with the institution’s support in making all required accommodations associated with COVID-19 so that our service delivery might continue.”

Once the pandemic is over, the Counseling Clinic will return to its usual fee system. The first five sessions are free for students and community members. Starting with the sixth visit, costs for community members are determined using a variable fee scale based on gross family income and family size ($5 to $20 maximum per service). SFA students pay $5 per service.

For more information, call the Counseling Clinic at (936) 468-1041.