CLEMSON — Nick White has been awarded the 2018 Verna G. Howell Professional Development Fellowship offered through Clemson University’s Division of Student Affairs. White, who coordinates dialectical behavior therapy for Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) in Redfern Health Center, will receive $2,000 to attend intensive training under the direction of internationally recognized expert Lane Pederson from April 30 to May 3 in San Diego, California.

Dr. Nick White of Counseling and Psychological Services, in his office

Nick White has been a member of Clemson’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) staff since 2015.

Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

White joined CAPS — a staff that now has 20 full-time clinicians — in September 2015. After spending over 20 years as a management consultant, he went back to school and followed his passion by earning a Ph.D. in counseling psychology from Georgia State University. Following a doctoral internship at Wichita State University, Clemson Student Health Services Executive Director Dr. George Clay and CAPS Director Raquel Contreras added him to the team.

“My sister-in-law, Paula Heusinkveld, was a professor in international languages at Clemson for almost 30 years, so I knew a lot about the area,” White said. “This has been a great transition for me, because I love being in a college environment. Helping students makes me feel younger and I’m doing something that matters to me.”

The basic premise of dialectical behavior therapy is helping people increase emotional regulation by learning about triggers that lead to reactive states and helping assess which skills to apply to help avoid undesired reactions.

CAPS offers a continuum of services beginning at a lower level of severity and ranging to extreme cases. Contreras, who has been at Clemson since 2002, has seen mental health issues rise steadily to where they now affect roughly 14 percent of the student population.

Nick White and Raquel Contreras of Counseling and Psychological Services together in Redfern Health Center

White, who works under the supervision of Raquel Contreras (right), coordinates dialectical behavior therapy for CAPS.
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

“DBT really comes in where needs are more severe and we implemented our program a few years ago under a consultant named Carolyn Kelly,” she said. “The driving force behind the program is to help students identify what they do that may be harmful to them. We try and teach sustaining skills that can create the life they feel is worth living.”

White coordinates a team of five instructors charged with leading a semester-long skills program for groups of 10 to 12 students. Individual therapy sessions are held concurrently, meaning a student enrolled in DBT makes a 2½ hour commitment in a typical week.

The therapy focuses on building skills for regulating emotions and managing volatile relationships. White and his team typically see patients dealing with chronic levels of suicidal thinking and self-harming behavior.

“The students who go through this program — especially if they fully engage — are more self-aware,” White said. “They become better able to manage emotions effectively. Our goal is to be their last therapist. We don’t want them in counseling for the rest of their lives.”

Contreras said CAPS had seven clinicians in her first year at Clemson. Because of the collaborative efforts with many groups across campus — Advocacy and Success, Community and Ethical Standards, Healthy Campus and others — she noted White’s fellowship will go a long way toward meeting the needs of a growing trend in higher education.

“We are creative with the resources we have, because the demand is hefty,” she said. “Clemson is very responsive up the chain of command, and we are fortunate to have an administration that supports our efforts through funding and staffing.”

The Verna G. Howell Professional Development Fellowship was established to honor the legacy of Howell’s service. A 1978 Clemson graduate, she served as the university’s director of housing (1990–2006) and associate vice president for Student Affairs (2006–14). The fellowship provides funding to a Student Affairs staff member to receive advanced training in his or her field of expertise.