Behavior Management Clinic offers respite from anxieties

Release Date: 5/2/2012

The room is dark and pleasant. Its walls are wood-paneled, the furniture comfortable: a couch suitable for lounging, an overstuffed recliner, even a pile of mats in the corner for those who want to lie all the way down. The place evokes relaxation, which is appropriate: this is University of Ozarks Behavior Management Clinic. Located in Voorhees Hall, the Behavior Management Clinic offers help to those struggling with various forms of anxiety.

Student and BMC Director Heaven Lara explained how the process works. "Once someone contacts us and sets up an appointment, the first thing we do is give them what's called a PAS test - Personal Assessment Screener. It measures a lot of different psychiatric issues which might be affecting the client - issues of social withdrawal, thoughts of self-harm, etc. The test has the person rate themselves from mild through moderate to extreme on these various issues. It helps us do a better job of pinpointing where the stress might be coming from, as well as letting us know whether we may be able to help the person deal with their stress."

One of the primary tools used in teaching relaxation is biofeedback technology. Biofeedback is the process of becoming aware of your various physiological functions - heart rate, skin conductivity, electromyography (which measures muscle tension), and respiration rate - through use of skin conductors and a monitor which traces the readings for each function on a single screen.

Clinic technicians lead the clients through guided visualizations using relaxation scripts written for that purpose.

Behavior Management Clinic

Behavior Management Clinic Director Heaven Lara indicates the biofeedback monitor used by the clinic to help clients combat anxiety. The clinic teaches clients how to relax using various breathing and visualization techniques.

According to Associate Professor of Psychology Karen Jones, the biofeedback monitor allows clients to learn to relax. "People come down and say 'I'll never be able to relax, I'm so tense all the time,' and this monitor shows them physical proof that they actually are able to get relaxed," she said. "It's extremely rewarding for them to know that with practice, if they continue, they'll actually have less tense situations in their lives overall."

She added the biggest point is that people have to be willing to make the commitment to practice what they learn. "It's not a quick fix. But if they practice these techniques, make them part of their lives, it works very well. It's amazing. It's a simple, non-pharmaceutical intervention, which is what I like about it."

Jones gave a case history. "We had a client once - she was a student here, stressed all the time, very thin, and her hands and feet were constantly freezing. She could never get comfortable in the classroom. So we brought her down here. One day when I was observing, in the middle of her session she started crying. She said it felt like her feet were on fire. So we stopped the session and I said, 'You've never felt warm feet before, have you?' She goes, 'Is that what they feel like?' I said, 'When it's a brand new experience, yes.' She cried because she had worked so hard and finally was able to relax. And a lot of the health problems she had completely went away."

In another case, Jones had a student who she noticed staggered one day when she stood up from taking a test. "That's kind of weird, I thought. The second time I noticed it, I asked her if she was okay. She said, 'I'm so dizzy when I get up from my exams.' The reason was because of anxiety she was holding her breath and cutting her oxygen supply off and didn't even notice! So we got her down here and she learned to stop doing that. And it worked."

Is there a limit beyond which the clinic can't help a client? Lara explained. "The PAS test should indicate if the person is above moderate regarding any of the issues it measures. If so, we immediately get in contact with Professor Jones, because at that point it's not really in our hands. However, we do referrals to Counseling Associates here in town. We've had a couple we've referred because the clinic isn't really an emergency treatment center. The technicians here don't do therapy, but for people who struggle with anxiety, this really works."

Sometimes it's Counseling Associates which refers patients to the Behavior Management Clinic, Jones recalled. "We had the case of a young man who was getting ready to go into the military and was starting having difficulty sleeping at night, worrying about leaving his family and so forth. The family was concerned he might not be able to pass his physical when the time came because he was so stressed out. Counseling Associates contacted me because they felt his anxiety was something that could be treated here. So we brought him down and got him to the point where he could relax and sleep at night. He was very happy and wrote us a nice letter of thanks."

The clinic is available during the fall and spring semesters. "We're here and we're available," said Jones. "I'd like the two students who operate this clinic to be able to help more people. I think sometimes people might be a little hesitant due to fear of being seen coming in here, which is exactly the kind of issue - social anxiety - that can be dealt with here. Everybody gets stressed, and it's really nothing to be self-conscious about."

The clinic is a free service. For further information or to make an appointment, call (501)979-1464 to leave a message, or contact Director Heaven Lara at (817) 876-8889 or hlara447@ozarks.edu; or Assistant Director Macie Kelley at (214) 534-3337 or mkell435@ozarks.edu.