Vanguard University hopes to help with the journey to mental health

Dalila Perea was born and raised in Santa Ana.

He attended Washington Elementary School, McFadden Intermediate and Saddleback High. But what he didn’t hear much about growing up in his Latino community was talking about mental health or counseling.

Instead, there should often be image machismo, he said.

“They’re at a disadvantage,” Perea said. “Most people are trying to feed their bellies. When you’re trying to feed your family, the last thing on your plate is to know how I feel, what my emotions are. You’re in a position to survive … so I’m going to be embarrassed by therapy and pretend I don’t need it because I can’t have that luxury for myself. ”

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

Returning to Santa Ana to serve the community as a psychotherapist is exciting. He believes that everyone can benefit from the new “Journeys at Vanguard” Counseling Center, which opened in the spring in his hometown.

The unique center is a collaboration between Vanguard’s graduate psychology program and the Journeys Counseling Ministry, created by Rev. Randy Powell, which also has Orange County branches in Costa Mesa and Mission Viejo.

Dr. Brenda Gesell, left, director of the graduate program in clinical psychology at Vanguard University, and Dalila Perea, a VU graduate and young counselor at Santa Ana, answered questions in an interview Wednesday.

(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Journeys at Vanguard provides a training center for Vanguard’s graduate clinical psychology program for students who offer therapy while undergoing supervision by a licensed Journeys therapist. The net result of the community is low-cost mental health care.

Potential customers can submit a query on the Journeys website. Contact a therapist to make a quick 10 minute phone call to determine their needs.

Brenda Gesell, director of Vanguard’s postgraduate clinical psychology program, said the center opened in March and had a successful May 21 open house event.

“We’ve already put in six clinics,” Gesell said, adding that all of them are Vanguard alumni. “By 2023, we want to see a maximum of 20 and 350 customers a week.”

Gesell sees the center as a whole circle, as Powell was the first pastor on the Vanguard campus and was his supervisor in 2000 when he was in the graduate psychology program.

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

“We’re teaming up with someone who understands the community,” Gesell said. “We’re also saying, ‘Let’s make sure it’s free. If you need it, we’ll give it to you for free.’ [per session], this can be helpful to get you started. Then it feels like they are taking responsibility for the treatment. It shows the value of what they are doing, the feeling that they are making contributions. ”

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

In 2019, four times more people were killed in suicide than for alcohol-related traffic accidents, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Dr. Brenda Gesell, left, and Dalila Perea, a graduate of Vanguard University and a young Santa Ana advisor.

Dr. Brenda Gesell, left, director of the graduate program in clinical psychology at Vanguard University, and Dalila Perea, a graduate of VU and a young counselor at Santa Ana.

(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“If children have been traumatized or adults have gone through things, it may take a year or two to process these things,” Gesell said. “Insurance only gives them a fraction. Sometimes it turns out to be a shooter where you don’t find the skills to deal with doing that deeper work, rather than getting in the way of frustration. I think there is a myth that mental growth is linear growth … We need to understand that growth is circular. ”

Although Powell is a pastor and a Vanguard Christian university, Gesell said the program is open to all backgrounds and faiths. Telehealth services are also being offered, and Vanguard plans to launch an online program this fall.

“Then we can see anyone in California,” Gesell said.

Perea is also excited about this view, but her thoughts often stay close to home. He said he wants to remove the stigma of therapy and welcomes the opportunity to perform in Santa Ana, which he said is full of “beautiful families and people, beautiful cultures and wonderful communities.”

“Therapy is about creating a space where you can process some of those tensions, interactions, emotions, constantly repressing them or making sure there’s nothing bigger to sweep under the rug,” Perea said. “The look that doesn’t exist won’t go away; it will get worse.”

He said that anyone who can be cautious about coming to therapy has feelings that are completely valid. Perhaps partly because of his education, Perea said he was “terrified” of starting the therapy himself.

Eventually, however, she said the therapy has made her a better wife, mother and friend.

“Good things happen to people who choose to be brave,” he said. “I would encourage anyone who is thinking about therapy from afar to be brave and do it. Everyone deserves a space to feel and be, and that’s what Travel Therapy is offering so that people can see and hear. ”

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