The Child Guidance Center’s new executive director, Cathy Gaytan, says this year is a critical one for the local non-profit, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary.

Giving has been down the past two years, and Gaytan is hoping its 13th annual celebrity roast fundraising dinner on Tuesday will reverse that trend.

This year’s dinner is a Paso del Norte Foundation Challenge Fund event, so the foundation will contribute 50 cents for every dollar raised. The honoree and subject of the roast is Emma Schwartz, president of the Medical Center of the Americas.

Despite its name, the Child Guidance Center does not only provide mental health services for children. It also helps their families and adults, including soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, Juarenses exposed to drug violence and victims of sexual violence and abuse.

El Paso has a shortage of mental health providers, especially those who see Medicaid patients, and the need is overwhelming, Gaytan says.

The center, which employs five full-time therapists, also provides training for local counselors and provides support for school counselors. It also conducts research.

Gaytan began working as a therapist at the center in 2007 when she moved to El Paso with her husband, Dr. Osvaldo Gaytan, who works at University Behavioral Health. She became director of clinical services at the Child Guidance Center in 2009 and was promoted to executive director in July.

She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and master’s in social work from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is a licensed clinical social worker, or LCSW.

The non-profit has two locations: 2701 East Yandell in Central El Paso and 9001 Cashew in the Mission Valley.

Gaytan sat down with El Paso Inc. and talked about what is new at the center and what her vision is for its future.

Q: How great is the need for counseling and therapy in El Paso?

Overwhelming. El Paso is an underserved city – by far. We’re vastly underserved in child psychiatry. There aren’t enough mental health providers to meet the need, primarily those who serve Medicaid families.

Q: Medicaid doesn’t reimburse very well?

The Medicaid reimbursement rate is exceedingly low, which is our primary population. Medicaid reimburses about 50 percent of what it costs to conduct an hour of therapy. Last year, it cost us $113 to conduct an hour of therapy; Medicaid reimburses about $50.

Q: What pays the rest?

Grants and donations.

Q: If the need is overwhelming, does that mean the center has a waiting list?

We do right now. One of the biggest reasons we have a wait list is because of the credentialing process with insurance companies.

What I mean by that is we just hired two new therapists, but it can take three to six months to get a therapist on those insurance panels so we can bill the insurance. Meanwhile, we have kids waiting for services, and that is what you don’t want because things can get worse. It is really frustrating to know that it is really just a bureaucratic process standing in the way.

Q: Two new therapists. Have you expanded the staff?

We had two who resigned over the past year, so we will probably still need to hire a third.

Q: It seems like counseling could be an emotionally draining job. Is there a lot of turnover?

It’s extremely tough. Out of a 10-hour day, eight of those can be spent conducting 50-minute therapy sessions – family after family coming in with their own issues.

You have to know that when you have a cancellation, you should probably take a walk around the block. It is a critical part of the supervisor’s job to monitor for burnout.

As my brother says, “We are not making shower curtains.” Counseling is a human-to-human interaction, and a lot of times you are sitting in the face of very deep emotions. You are the container; you have to hold that emotion in the room. Then that person leaves and, 10 minutes later, somebody else is coming through your door.

About 90 percent of the people we see have suffered some kind of trauma, so we need therapists who are trained in the treatment of trauma. We are talking about a high level of training. You have the general therapist, then you’ve got those who treat children and families, and then you’ve got the trauma specialty.

A lot of the people we recruit don’t have that background, so we have to train them in that. Training El Paso’s mental health force, specifically on issues surrounding children and families, is another big piece of what we do.

Q: Have the types of cases you see changed at all?

For a while, we saw a rise in the number of people exposed to violence in Juárez. We have seen a rise in the number of survivors of trauma coming to us in general, and that is probably because of our reputation for our training in trauma. We also see soldiers who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Q: Anything different about the roast this year.

This is a critical year for us. It’s our 60th anniversary and it’s also a Paso del Norte Foundation challenge fund event.

Emma Schwartz was chosen this year. We’ve only roasted one other woman and that was Myrna Deckert in 2008.

Q: How much do you hope to raise at the fundraiser, and how well is fundraising going this year?

The goal for the entire year is $50,000, so we still have work to do. We’ve seen a drop in giving over the past two years, which is why the challenge fund is so important.

One of the Child Guidance Center’s goals right now is to do more outreach. We’ve been in our corner doing our thing for years, so people kind of know of us, but they often confuse us with the Child Crisis Center and are not really sure who we are and what we do.

Our name says “child,” but we see adults, too. So we might be looking at changing our logo and the name in the next year or so.

Now we have four different fundraisers. We used to just have the roast. This summer, we also did a really cool event called the Glow Run, which was a family event.

Q: What is your vision for the center?

One of my goals is to grow. By that I mean to expand the clinical staff to have more therapists in town who are trauma trained, because we want to be able to serve more people.

Over the past five years, we’ve added an emphasis on training. Over that time, we’ve brought in $95,000 worth of free training. That was huge. We’ve done training for counselors at local school districts. School counselors are historically overworked and overwhelmed, so we are a support system for them.

Now we have psychiatry residents and medical school students rotating through. We have an intern who presented a research poster at a local conference and got first place. That’s really the other piece – formalizing the research component.

Q: What are the non-profit’s needs?

They’re wide ranging. We need everything from someone to kill those weeds and pull out those palm trees to donations. We are trying to do a better job at communicating what our needs are.

We need someone to organize our rummage sale. We did that for the first time this year and raised $550. Next year I want to double it. People can go on and donate books; we have a wish list there.

Q: Is it difficult moving from the practice side, doing therapy every day, to the administrative side?

I still have one therapy case I keep, because I never want to let that go. It keeps me grounded and helps me remember why we do what we do. It keeps me motivated to do the things that are sometimes not so fun, like writing reports or asking for money.

Q: What is most rewarding about the job?

The types of healing we see are kids who can’t sit still in class, who don’t want to leave Mom and Dad or Grandma, who can’t sleep at night, who have nightmares. Over time, we teach them skills to manage those feelings.

We teach parents the parenting skills needed to help. It is great to see a parent walk a little taller and a little more confident – I can handle this tantrum. Those are the kinds of rewards I see.

Everyone deserves equal care. You will get the best care here when you walk in the door. It doesn’t matter what your background is.

Email El Paso Inc. reporter Robert Gray at or call (915) 534-4422 ext. 105. Twitter: @ReporterRobby