Nate Guyton wants to help people. 

It’s that simple. A desire to help people led him into his graduate program at Texas Christian University studying clinical and mental health counseling. Through that program, the former Horned Frog football player is working with Fort Worth ISD families.

TCU and Fort Worth ISD are partnering for a clinic at the Carter-Riverside Family Resource Center to serve district families in need of counseling services.

The clinic and mental health work the school district is doing is decades in the making, said  Ottis Goodwin, Fort Worth ISD director of family and community resources.

After the shooting at Wedgewood Baptist Church in 1999, Goodwin said, former Mayor Kenneth Barr charged the city with unifying mental health services to make sure everyone in Fort Worth who needs services has access.

Fort Worth ISD was one of the founding members of what is now the nonprofit Mental Health Connection. The district has had sites with counseling services before, but the 2022-23 school year is the second one in which TCU is a partner.

The partnership is a win for both schools, he said. The district gets more counseling resources for students, and the university students get clinical hours they need to complete their degrees.

Emily Michero, clinic director and TCU professor, said the Carter-Riverside center currently serves over 50 families. Goodwin said across the district there were about 4,000 behavioral health referrals last school year. There are other sites that provide counseling services, but only Carter-Riverside is part of the TCU partnership. 

The students get a referral from the school counselor, a doctor, parent or other resource, allowing the family to come to the clinic, Goodwin said. Clinic staff works with the family to try to figure out what they want to achieve from the student seeing a counselor.

Guyton said the TCU program puts an emphasis on solutions-focused therapy, meaning staff spends more time working toward solutions to issues a student is experiencing versus talking about the problem.

But that doesn’t mean counselors don’t talk about the problems the students are having; it’s just a different way to have the conversation. For example, Guyton said, children communicate through play. The clinic has several play rooms the students use for sessions. Toys are their language, he said, and how they play is their words.

A question one of the counseling students might ask a child is, “If you went to bed tonight and a miracle happened while you were sleeping, what would you notice in the morning that lets you know a miracle happened?”

That kind of question opens up a conversation about something that’s wrong in a child’s life and what therapy can do to help them reach their goal, Guyton said.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s been a greater need for mental health services for students.

Before the pandemic, Goodwin said, a lot of what children experienced was aggression or acting out. Now, more students are dealing with anxiety, depression, trauma and loss.

Michero agreed that there is a greater need for therapy for children since the pandemic.

“Any of the pre-existing struggles that are some of the more normal developmental challenges have been exacerbated by the pandemic, the family stress of the pandemic, and the lack of socialization during those years,” she said. “And so some of what we would typically see in years past is just more. It’s not that it’s totally different stuff, but it’s with more intensity.”

When trying to decide if some outbursts are developmental or signs of a larger issue, Michero said, parents should trust their gut instincts because they know their kids best. 

If some behavior is prolonged or seems more intense, they can inquire about extra help, she said.

The clinic works with families and local partners on payment so anyone can access the services. 

Graduate students like Guyton are serving the community through this work, which he said is what matters most to him in this partnership. He said he hopes more people learn about it and use the services.

There’s people out there that do care,” he said. “And there’s people out there that do want to serve them with absolutely every ounce of passion, everything they’ve got.”

Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Kristen Barton

Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She has previous experience in education reporting for her hometown paper, the Longview News-Journal and her college paper, The Daily...