UM’s COPE counseling center hopes to offer group counseling

Ashley Miles
Oxford Stories

Ole Miss junior biochemistry and public policy leadership major, Taran Carrasco, said she has used counseling facilities in the past. Today, she encourages others to COPE with mental health issues.

“My roommate last semester benefited from COPE tremendously,” said Carrasco. “It is becoming more common to talk about mental health, but it depends on who you are around and associate with yourself. If you are around others that understand mental health, they are more likely to be encouraging. But, some peers can be dismissive. There definitely is a culture shift within our generation.”

Taran said, “This is a vital and life-changing time for many college students, so it is crucial now, more than ever, to learn and practice how to take care of yourself, not only physically but mentally.” “It is hard to learn how to prioritize your time, especially in times of stress, so, personally I think the Cope Clinic is an excellent option for students,” she adds.

Dr. Alex Kerwin, the clinical coordinator for the University of Mississippi’s Clinic for Outreach and Personal Enrichment, said the COPE Clinic provides services for a variety of concerns. COPE is free to university students and does not have a limit on sessions. Also, fees for individuals are determined on a sliding scale, offering affordable prices.

COPE, located at 2301 S. Lamar Blvd in the old hospital, provides counseling services to children, adolescents, college students, and adults, according to its website. They hope to offer group counseling soon.

“Services are provided by master’s, specialist, and doctoral students who are completing their practicum or internship experiences as well as by faculty members,” the website reads. “Additionally, doctoral students use this facility to provide clinical supervision to master’s students.”

Kerwin, a Grenada native, earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of Southern Mississippi in psychology, and a master’s degree in counseling psychology from USM.

Kerwin earned her doctorate in counselor education and supervision at Idaho State University-Meridian Health Science Center. She has been at UM for five years, and in June, she became COPE’s clinical coordinator.

Kerwin said her interest in psychology and counseling came from her mom’s mental illness. Her grandmother took her to therapy growing up to have a better understanding of what her mother was going through. Then, in graduate school, she selected counseling as her branch.

“Making coordinator my professional identity has been my legacy with COPE so far,” said Kerwin whose drive comes from contributing to the counseling community and training future counselors.

The COPE Clinic’s main clients come from brochures, referrals, and the on-campus waitlist said Kerwin who wants more people to learn about the clinic.

The COPE Clinic now provides individual, couples, family, play therapy, adolescent and sand-play therapy. Some specialty areas are anxiety, depression, cultural identity, sexual orientation, grief and loss, sexual assault and stress.

Kerwin also teaches classes for the Department of Leadership and Counselor Education. “I remind my students when learning about professional identity and counseling education that you are enough, and the most important part of counseling is building a relationship. It is crucial that you also practice self-care in this field of helping others.”

Dr. Kerwin at her desk at the COPE Clinic. Photo by Ashley Miles

Intersectionality plays a significant role in counseling and is vital to the COPE Clinic. Kerwin said you cannot have the same assumptions for everyone that walks through the door. “You have to be aware of your privileges and identity when counseling an individual,” she said.

Kerwin was a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist for refugees when she lived in Idaho. She said it was an unforgettable experience to work with refugees from the Middle East and help them access services and rehabilitate.

“You do not have to be at your lowest point to come to counseling,” she said. “We are wellness-oriented.”

Kerwin said medication does not have to be “scary,” and it is not “bad” to acquire the right help for yourself. “Nothing is wrong with you,” she said. “It is just a matter of brain chemistry.

“You have to realize not everyone can afford a manicure and yoga. There is not a set way to obtain self-care. Also, college students can rely on unhealthy coping mechanisms because of stress. Self-care is a regimen: getting enough hours of sleep, exercising, eating healthy, and taking your medication.”

Kerwin loves research and training and working with students. She is passionate about the COPE faculty. She said her students are naturally talented. She likes the fact that she can make a direct and indirect impact through COPE.

“College students can confuse what makes them feel ‘good’ at the moment with healthy coping mechanisms,” Taran said, adding that it is okay to rely on counseling to figure out what is a healthy regime for yourself.

“Counseling Services” poster in the front office of COPE. Photo by Ashley Miles

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