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City's Psychologist Reaches Out While on the Run

February 13, 1986|CARMEN VALENCIA | Times Staff Writer

Psychologist Anthony Lopez considers himself a living advertisement for his services.

The doctor--who was raised and works in Santa Fe Springs--regularly jogs a seven-mile course through the city during his lunchtime.

Along the way, he tells people about the community mental health program he heads and that the city offers free to its residents.

The unusual practice has earned him the affectionate nickname of the Jogging Doc.

"I like to play where I work," said Lopez, a Whittier resident with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. Besides, he jokingly added, "it gives me a chance to see the graffiti."

Lopez, the city's full-time community psychologist and the only one to work in such a capacity for a Southeast Los Angeles County city, hopes his exposure in the community will help demystify psychology.

"That outreach brings out a warmth in people because they see you out there," said Lopez, noting that he also appears at PTA meetings, senior citizen conferences and anywhere he can tout the city program.

The bilingual psychologist was hired full time by the city in July. For the previous six years, he had worked for the privately owned Intercommunity Child Guidance Center, based in Santa Fe Springs. One of his assignments with the center was to handle child counseling services for the city. Today, Lopez continues the counseling and short-term therapy for children that he provided before, but by hiring him full time the city has been able to expand these services to adults.

Although he has started several new projects in the past several months--such as sixth-grade stress reduction project to help ease the transition from grade school to middle school--his primary focus is to offer counseling for existing city programs, such as two child-care centers, library services and gang-prevention programs. He also offers advice to city employees with job-related problems, although 95% of his clients are residents.

The community mental health program operates out of the Neighborhood Center on Pioneer Boulevard, where the city offers a host of services to residents such as legal aid, dental care, employment service and social work. The budget for the mental health program, which is part of the city's social services division, is about $60,000 a year, said Gus Velasco, assistant city manager of community services. About 140 clients are served each month.

Lopez "has had a positive impact in the lives of some people," said City Manager Don Powell, adding that the city hired him partly because it wanted more direct supervision over the projects Lopez worked on. "He is able to deal with areas that if they weren't handled . . . could turn into police problems or other problems."

Most clients are seen once, usually after seeking help with an emergency situation. There is no long-term therapy, and the more involved cases that cannot be dealt with are referred to other agencies, Lopez said. Lopez, the one-man staff for the program, said he can take short-term cases that last from six weeks to one year.

Part of his assignment takes him to the two city-funded child-care centers, where he counsels children and their families for three hours a week at each center.

Dorothy Fairchild, who runs the child-care centers, said Lopez' presence means that a child and his family can get immediate help.

When a child who suffered sexual abuse started to talk about the incident one day at the day-care center, Fairchild informed Lopez and he was able to see the child and her mother that day and schedule an appointment the following week.

"I don't have to call up the (county) Department of Social Services and wait for a month to get help," she said. Lopez "can do something right now."

Cases during his seven-year stint with the city have run the gamut from abusive parents to children who are academically failing or having behavioral problems in school, to one of the most common childhood psychological symptoms--bed-wetting.

Lopez said most cases involving children are often related to problems in the home.

He cites a 4-year-old who had "involuntary bowel movements," which created obvious problems at preschool.

"Why was he doing it? The boy came from a divorced home. There was a lot of disorganization in the teaching of habits and hygiene," he said, making toilet training for the child an "overlooked factor."

Whether it's figuring out children's phobias or simply helping parents deal with children who are having behavioral problems--Lopez hopes his running will get the message across that the program is accessible to residents.

"Whether they use it or not is not the point. We want them to understand they have access," Lopez said.

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