Nevada's Victims of Crime Treatment Center expands services

8/10/2010 - By: Claudene Wharton

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is about much more than economic stimulus. As of July 1, funds from the Act are helping the University of Nevada, Reno to provide more services to those who have suffered from physical childhood abuse.

The University’s Victims of Crime Treatment Center has been offering free psychological services to victims of sexual abuse and sexual assault for 14 years, but with the infusion of $40,000 into the program this year, the Center is now also able to assist those who have experienced physical childhood abuse.

“The Center was getting calls and referrals for therapy and treatment for victims of childhood physical abuse, because there is a limited amount of free services available to this population in our state,” said Brian Leany, Ph.D., therapist, who just came on board at the Center.

Leany says that previously the Center was only able to serve those who had been victims of sexual abuse and assault and handle a caseload of 25 to 30 clients. Now, the Center can also assist victims of childhood physical abuse, Leany’s specialty, and can serve about 50 to 60 clients at any one time. The services are free to anyone living in Nevada, and importantly, both Leany and fellow therapist, Lorraine Benuto, Ph.D., are fluent in Spanish, as well as English.

“We don’t have very many licensed practicing psychologists in the state who are Spanish-speaking,” Leany said, “so I’m really happy to be here to help fill this need.”

Among other experience in the field, Leany spent a challenging year at the “overcrowded and severely impacted” University Hospital in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He earned his master’s and Ph.D. at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and is happy to be returning to Nevada to practice.

“Psychological services in Nevada in general are a little less available than in many other places,” he said.

William O’Donohue, psychology professor and director of the Center, explained, “While over the last decade Nevada has worked hard to combat and prevent child abuse, it remains an issue of concern in our state. Given the state’s population distribution, Washoe and Clark Counties consistently represent the highest number of substantiated cases of child abuse.”

Because of transportation barriers, Leany said most current clients are from Washoe County, although he is trying to get the word out to the rural communities and find ways to serve those in need across the state. He said that he tries not to keep clients in therapy for several years, allowing more people to be served, and getting his clients to a state of independence quickly.

“We use a ‘brief model of therapy,’ a research-based, proven methodology that is designed to provide treatment for less than a year, developing self-efficacy and life skills,” he explained. “Research has shown that after about a year of therapy, effectiveness decreases, countering the stereotypical vision that many people may have of counseling, where clients attend regular therapy sessions for years, delving into every aspect of their current and past experiences.”

The Center uses a type of therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy, which attempts to change problematic thoughts and behaviors into more adaptive ones. Leany said that often abuse or violence might not seem abnormal to victims, if they have not experienced a life without physical abuse. And, issues of poverty or lack of education can make getting the right help even more difficult.

“We can teach them that it’s appropriate to be assertive and teach them how,” he said. “We teach them life skills, have them go out and try them and see that they can do it on their own.”

Besides the recent Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, the University’s Victims of Crime Treatment Center is supported by the Federal Justice Department’s Victims of Crime grant to the State of Nevada Division of Child and Family Services. For more information, call (775) 682-8680 or go to Victims of Crime Treatment Center.


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