For LGBTQIA+ Students, Persad fills Counseling Center Gaps

Daniel Brusilovsky | Contributor

Located a stone’s throw from the Allegheny River in the middle of Upper Lawrenceville, the Persad Center is an unassuming building surrounded by pubs, restaurants, and tattoo shops. Founded in 1972, Persad has been providing counseling and other services to LGBTQIA+ patients for almost 45 years. For Sara Yablonski, a Junior at Pitt who used to rely on the Counseling Center, Persad has been a lifeline. After problems with scheduling an appointment with the Counseling Center this fall, Sara, frustrated, resorted to outside resources, which brought her to Persad.

It’s not an unfamiliar story. For almost half a year, the Counseling Center hasn’t had a full time psychiatrist, and though the position has finally been filled, other problems persist. Particularly after the Counseling Center introduced limits to counseling sessions per year, Pitt students in need of consistent and long-term access to mental health services have been forced to look for other solutions.  Though the Counseling Center boasts that its new limit of eight individual sessions per year covers the needs of 81% of students, the ones that fall through the cracks and exceed that limit will inevitably be the most vulnerable. The problems that take longer to deal with are often the most serious. In general, according to Bergin and Garfield’s Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change, only 50% of people will experience lasting improvement after eight sessions, so the fact remains that for many, eight are simply not enough. Queer students, who are much more likely to experience depression and anxiety than their peers, are disproportionately hurt by this limit, which is why many are turning to Persad. Of course, unlike the Counseling Center, the services Persad offers aren’t included in tuition, but Persad prides itself on doing its best to make counseling affordable, and provides options for the uninsured and underinsured. According to Joe Ruesch, Communications Director at Persad, the Center works to “assure that as many individuals as possible could get care regardless of their ability to pay.”

Many feel that one of the greatest benefits of the Persad Center can provide is consistency. As Sara says, “Depression never takes a break!” At Persad, students can continue to get treatment throughout the academic year, keeping the same counselors and not having to search for new solutions when their sessions run out.  Not having a limit on sessions means that students can form positive and lasting relationships with their therapists. Sara and other students agreed that being able to keep the same therapist for long-term support was important to them. These relationships also help guide the process itself, as Persad approaches treatment in terms of setting goals and working towards them over time with their patients.

Along with consistency, for queer students, Persad provides a baseline of familiarity with queer issues that allows students to get directly to the help they need, not needing to spend time explaining identities. A student who preferred to stay anonymous felt this helped them personally in getting treatment, saying “At Persad, I felt they recognized that I was queer and had problems, not that being queer was my problem.” Persad is also connected to the larger Pittsburgh LGBTQIA+ community, hosting events, offering training and advocacy, and working to promote queer issues.  Sara, talking about why she’d recommend Persad to a friend seeking treatment, agreed: “Persad… feels much more integrated in the community it serves; they don’t just provide mental health services.”

The Counseling Center is continuing to make efforts to improve their treatment and expand their staff, but for students who their efforts leave behind or haven’t reached, it’s important to have places like Persad filling the gaps.