In the Spotlight
Training to Save Lives
NBCC Fellow Prepares to Help Teens & Adults as Professional Counselor
June 14, 2017
A national fellowship recently awarded to graduate student Juan Olivera will support career goals he established long before his freshman year of college, during a turbulent period in his early teens.
Olivera says he chose UT Tyler for the quality of its graduate program in counseling and the beauty and size of the campus.
Olivera is a clinical health counseling student at The University of Texas at Tyler and one of 30 graduate students in the country to receive the National Board for Certified Counselors Minority Fellowship Program for Addictions Counselors. The fellowship is designed to improve behavioral health care outcomes for racially and ethnically diverse populations by increasing the number of culturally competent behavioral health professionals.
As a fellow, Olivera will receive $11,000 and training to support his efforts to become a professional counselor with a specialty in helping transition-age minority youth, particularly those with addictions or eating disorders. Young people are considered "transitional'' from ages 16 to 25, as they launch from adolescence into adulthood.
Olivera knows firsthand the value of competent professional intervention in the life of a struggling teen. Approaching the transition years at age 14, he developed anorexia nervosa and was hospitalized for more than three months.
"For me, it wasn't about self-image; I had so much anxiety that I was never hungry. I was nauseous all the time and, after five months or so of that pattern, I lost about 45 pounds. If I hadn't gone to the hospital, I would probably be dead,'' said Olivera.
"All the psychiatrists and therapists and nursing staff basically saved my life,'' he added. "I want to do the same for others.''
Finding the Best Fit – UT Tyler
With a new lease on life and future goals in place, Olivera earned a GED and attended community college in his hometown of Forth Worth, before heading to Denton to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology with a minor in counseling. The summer before graduation, he researched extensively for the most suitable graduate program in counseling.
UT Tyler stood out among the rest.
"I basically looked at every single counseling program in the state,'' he said. "I made a spread sheet of all the universities with master's programs in counseling and compared and contrasted.
"I saw that UT Tyler had a good counseling program that was nationally accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs, and I liked how the counseling and psychology departments are combined,'' he said of UT Tyler's Department of Psychology and Counseling. "Most schools separate them out.''
He also visited UT Tyler and was impressed with its appearance and size.
"The campus is beautiful and, with about 10,000 students, UT Tyler is smaller than the university I attended as an undergraduate, which had about 38,000 students. I no longer feel like a small fish in a giant tank,'' said Olivera, a teaching assistant in psychology and vice president of UT Tyler's Psi Chi student psychology club.
"At my last school, I don't think I ever met my department chair. Here, I can just walk into Dr. Barké's office and talk to him,'' he added, noting that psychology and counseling chair Dr. Charles Barké encouraged him to apply for the fellowship and assisted in the process.
"And, unlike some of the other schools where graduate courses are taught by doctoral students, at UT Tyler I am taught by full professors with years of field experience. I enjoy hearing their stories that are true to life as they actually happened, as opposed to just learning from a textbook.''
Entering his second year of graduate school, Olivera will begin his practicum in the fall and will complete two semesters of community internships before graduating with a Master of Arts degree in clinical health counseling. In addition to being a licensed professional counselor, he plans to teach at the college level and earn a doctoral degree.
Preparing to Do His Part
After graduation, Olivera wants to help make mental health care more accessible to underserved populations.
The NBCC fellowship will help him solidify his professional identity as a counselor by attending counseling conferences, learning about current and developing evidence-based practices and networking with other counseling professionals.
Professionally, Olivera plans to do his part to make mental health care more accessible to underserved populations. He also plans to help educate underserved communities about mental health issues.
"I want to provide free psychoeducation about mental health in general and provide services on a sliding scale based on family income,'' said Olivera, noting that he grew up in an inner-city community where the poverty rate was high, substance abuse was widespread and young people were at risk.
He recalled his family's challenges in getting treatment for his eating disorder.
"The process of getting into the hospital was really difficult. I was from a low-income family and my parents were immigrants from Mexico. We applied for Medicaid and it was denied, so we had to appeal,'' he said.
"And since my mom didn't know English and my dad was always working, I was the one making the phone calls to ask, 'Are we approved yet? Can I go to the hospital now?''' Olivera added. "I especially want to help people in situations like that.''