The Q&A: Paul Carrola

In this week's Q&A, we interview Paul Carrola, an assistant professor in the Educational Psychology and Special Services Department at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Paul Carrola is a professor in the Educational Psychology and Special Services Department at the University of Texas at El Paso.

With each issue, Trib+Edu brings you an interview with experts on issues related to public education. Here is this week's subject:

Paul Carrola is an assistant professor in the Educational Psychology and Special Services Department at the University of Texas at El Paso. His clinical experience spans 10 years and includes working in corrections, K-12 school environments, mental health setting, and private practice. His research interests include counselor burnout, correctional counseling, counseling veterans and domestic violence. He is currently conducting research on counseling on the U.S./Mexican border and how the effects of issues such as border violence and immigration affect counselors on both sides of the border.

Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Trib+Edu: What issues are counselors facing?

Paul Carrola: In general, mental health providers and mental health counselors, especially in places where trauma or violence has occurred, they get really overexposed to this and experience secondary trauma, vicarious trauma. A lot of times, mental health providers are the least likely to seek help themselves. Because they have been trained in this area, they believe they will not succumb to those kind of things.

My interest is looking at how mental health providers experience that and looking at ways to prevent it through best practices they can use in order to maintain self-care. If they maintain their own sense of self-care, they are better able to provide services for their clients.

In schools, counseling is a bit different. They are also exposed to similar things, dealing with children and working in a school environment.

Trib+Edu: What role does the U.S. and Mexico border play in your research?

Carrola: Hearing about the border violence happening here in 2010 at its peak, I had the question of how the counselors in Juarez were dealing with this experience. What came out of that and continues to uncover other issues is immigration and how people have been displaced from Juarez to El Paso. I was looking at what kind of services are provided for them. Those issues go beyond just the border, that is a transnational issue.

The way it is being dealt with here in this border community reflects deeper societal issues across the nation. It is leading to look at how the two countries and two cities can collaborate to try to address the issues.

Trib+Edu: What was your research looking for? 

Carrola: It was exploratory, looking at the experience and what is really happening when dealing with these issues. What I am looking for are recommendations in ways for mental health providers in El Paso and Juarez to collaborate.

I plan to create workshops and training. The training requirements are very different in Mexico from here in Texas. There is a lot of opportunities for them to benefit from us, and vice versa. There is a great need. We are so close that it doesn’t make any sense for us not to be collaborating.

Trib+Edu: What did you end up seeing in your research?

Carrola: There is a lot of information that came up. The biggest one was counselors being overwhelmed. They were overexposed to trauma. There was limited supervision and consultation. The mental health providers are not regularly seeking help themselves, or consulting with their colleagues or supervisors. That goes against best practices of continually debriefing and consulting with a supervisor or co-workers. There was not a lot of continual feedback and training. The licensing regulations, as far as I can tell, are not very strictly enforced.

The main gap where I think we could most immediately have an effect is in continuing education and training.

Trib+Edu: Did anything seem unusual?

Carrola: What most surprised me was the overexposure of trauma. The fact that the city in general, the people are functioning despite all these issues being there. They have kind of pushed them underneath the surface because they were in survival mode. Even the mental health providers were coping to deal with all the things they were exposed to. Being in survival mode, those issues were just not addressed.

Trib+Edu: How does this play out in schools?

Carrola: This summer we are getting more data on school counseling. A major issues is the the migrant population and unaccompanied minors, so there is this huge migrant phenomenon. They are parentless.

Those that are in school, the counselors are having to deal with these children with the multiple issues they bring with them. We don’t even know all the effects of the issues that the children are bringing with them. A big area we want to continue to look at is unaccompanied minors and what services are provided to them and how the mental health providers are engaging with them.

From what I have seen — and it may be different in other parts of Mexico — but it seems that there is little to no school counseling in Mexico. They do mainly advising. It is more difficult to investigate schools counseling in Juarez because we find very little of it.