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September 27, 2010   Columns Articles | Inside UGA | Community service
Magnify ASPIRE clinic three faculty members-H.env.portrait
From left: UGA faculty members Jerry Gale, Maria Bermudez and Joseph Goetz are part of ASPIRE, a clinic that provides a variety of counseling services to Athens-area residents. Photo by Peter Frey

Community service

Expanded clinic provides counseling on relationships, finances, housing and nutrition

September 27, 2010

  A new clinic at UGA, one of the first of its kind in the U.S., will provide residents of Athens-Clarke County and surrounding areas counseling services on a variety of topics, including individual and relationship issues, finances, housing and nutrition.

The clinic, known by the acronym ASPIRE, which stands for Acquiring Strategies for Personal Improvement and Relationship Enhancement, is the creation of faculty in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences. It opened on a limited basis in January providing services on individual and relationship issues and financial issues, according to Lee Johnson, associate professor of child and family development and director of the FACS marriage and family therapy program.

"We want to meet clients where they are," Johnson said. "What we have already found is that our clients liked having both services available. We think we'll have even more people who want to access these additional services."

There are no requirements or limits on whom a client meets with. For example, someone interested in nutrition counseling isn't required to also meet with a financial planning counselor. However, Johnson and his colleagues agree that it can be helpful to have access to experts in other fields.

"Our financial planning counselors have said they appreciated knowing they had a resource to turn to if a client seemed depressed or if a family's financial issues seemed tied to relationship issues," said Joseph Goetz, assistant professor of family financial planning and another founder of ASPIRE. "As we've talked to our colleagues in other departments, we've realized how interconnected so many aspects of people's lives are."

Megan Lee, assistant professor of furnishings and interiors, said the home environment plays a role in a variety of other issues.

"For a family that's facing financial issues and also dealing with physical infirmities, we can help identify relatively inexpensive solutions that will make a house more accessible and safer," she said. "For another family facing issues regarding how its children perform in school, we might look at the space the children have for homework and identify ways to make that space more appropriate."

In addition, Lee said, clients who want to remodel their kitchen can work with furnishings and interiors students who will draw up plans and work with them in picking out materials and getting them installed.

Rebecca Mullis, head of the FACS foods and nutrition department, sees the ASPIRE clinic as a place where FDN students, under the direction of a registered dietitian, could work with individuals, families or small groups on a variety of nutrition issues.

"Right now, we know that the University Health Center has a high demand for nutrition counseling and classes," she said. "ASPIRE could provide a place for both students and community members to discuss issues like weight control or vegetarian eating.

Mullis emphasized that the counselors will focus on nutrition education, not clinical issues such as eating disorders. However, she said, there is a range of topics that could be pursued, including issues that also might include counselors in the other areas.

"For example, food costs are one of the most elastic areas in anyone's budget," she said. "In these economic times, I could foresee our counselors working with those in financial planning to reduce food costs on things like eating out and, instead, teach families ways to provide nutritious meals on a budget."

Likewise, Mullis said individuals who wanted to lose weight might find it helpful to include a relationship counselor to ensure family support for the effort.

Other faculty who are involved in ASPIRE include Maria Bermudez, assistant professor of marriage and family therapy, and Jerry Gale, associate professor of marriage and family therapy.

In addition to providing a community service, faculty involved with ASPIRE also will gather data to determine whether the model is an effective way of delivering a range of services to clients, Johnson said. Those providing counseling services are either advanced undergraduate or graduate students who have received specific training and whose work is overseen by faculty members.

MORE INFO The cost for ASPIRE is on a sliding fee schedule. For additional information or to arrange a free consultation call (706) 542-4486 or send an e-mail to

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