Welcoming students each day, Acacia Counseling and Wellness provides accessible mental health services in its Isla Vista office.

Acacia is located across the street from Embarcadero Hall. Leonard Paulasa / Daily Nexus

Their I.V. office – located across the street from Embarcadero Hall, behind Cajé Cafe on Embarcadero del Norte – is the closest long-term counseling offered for UC Santa Barbara students, providing individual therapy, group therapy and psychiatry services.

Acacia was founded in 2014 by Dr. Keith Higginbotham and Dr. Brett Donnelly. The two psychologists noticed a growing demand for mental health services while working at UCSB’s Counseling and Psychological Services (C.A.P.S.).

As a result, many students were referred to community providers to ensure consistent scheduling and shorter wait times. However, students faced several barriers to accessing these outside services, such as transportation issues, cost difficulties and provider availability.

Recognizing these barriers, Higginbotham and Donnelly embraced an opportunity to create an accessible, welcoming therapy center to meet the growing needs of the student population.

“We made it our mission to help students get the longer term care that they need and really address the barriers,” Higginbotham said in an interview with the Nexus.

Acacia has been providing services to the I.V. community for upwards of five years. Today, the office works in conjunction with C.A.P.S. to ensure an effective treatment plan for each patient.

Students seeking treatment first attend C.A.P.S. on campus, where they may be referred for long-term care at Acacia.

“C.A.P.S. is a really important function in doing crisis work, that short-term treatment, and a lot of the outreach and education. We want to be their premier referral service by providing the best treatment and hiring therapists who are really well-skilled in working with student issues,” Higginbotham said.

Robbyn Jackson, clinical psychologist and lead director of Acacia’s I.V. office, said he is passionate about successfully serving the needs of the I.V. community.

“I see my role as finding the best clinicians I can to meet the needs of the student population. I’m always looking for really good quality therapists who are passionate about the work we do, and make sure that we are helping as many students as possible every week,” Jackson said.

The office is also home to Charlie the therapy dog, a trained therapy animal that brightens the I.V. community on a regular basis.

With more than 16 therapists on staff, Higginbotham said that Acacia has a diverse pool of providers so as to make people with all identities feel welcome in their office. If a therapist at another clinic has an identity that someone is looking for, Acacia hopes to connect them through video sessions.

Acacia also partners with several other organizations on campus, including C.A.R.E., the Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity (RCSGD) and the Disabled Students Program (DSP) to ensure quality mental health care to students of all identities.

“We really appreciate the relationship with the university, to sort of work hand in hand with them, with referrals, understanding what the needs are that they’re seeing. We love to be able to reach out and partner with them as much as we can,” Higginbotham said.

The Acacia Resources, Outreach, and Outpatient Therapy for Students (R.O.O.T.S) non-profit project is also dedicated to aiding low-income students in accessing mental health services. Students and members of the community consistently raise funds for the project, which go toward mental health education and outreach as well.

The office also runs the Mental Health Advocates Internship program, in which students that are interested in the psychology field can gain hands-on experience.

“We do mock therapy sessions together so they can get a feel for what it’s like to be in the field, and they do events and all kinds of stuff for us. It’s a really great opportunity,” Jackson said.

According to Higginbotham, therapy has the potential to significantly change individuals’ lives for the better, especially young people.

“You see a lot of growth, you see a lot of confidence building, and some people are just very different people today than when they came in,” Higginbotham said.

UCSB students are encouraged to access Acacia’s services through a referral from C.A.P.S. Students and members of the community can also access Acacia’s services through their online registration form.

A version of this article appeared on page 4 of the Feb. 21, 2019 print edition of the Daily Nexus

Ashley Rusch is a staff writer for the Daily Nexus can be reached at news@dailynexus.com. 

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