New hire Alberto Soto brings social justice focus to role as director of counseling

By Julia Clarick

Courtesy Photo
Soto’s approach to mental health counseling incorporates an awareness of social justice and the ways the world around them shapes students’ lives.

The Parton Center for Health and Wellness is welcoming Alberto Soto as the new Director of Counseling this year. At Middlebury, Soto hopes to implement more inclusive methods in his approach to mental health, bringing a personal background in trauma recovery and several years of experience at other colleges to his role. 

Soto earned his PhD in counseling psychology from Brigham Young University, and most recently worked with health and wellness services as associate director of counseling at Swarthmore College and staff psychologist at Brown University.

Past personal experiences shaped Soto’s counseling work and his priorities at Middlebury. In high school, he grappled with the death of his older brother, a tragedy that induced a lifelong battle with depressive symptoms. To help cope with the loss, Soto found a therapist in his home state of Idaho, but his experience was negative — and in sharp contrast to the way that he hopes Middlebury students interact with the school’s mental health resources. 

Soto said that this negative experience was in part due to a lack of cultural competence from his provider. 

“[It] provided me with an understanding of the importance of having someone during our moments of suffering who can understand and align approaches with our cultural world view,” Soto said in an email to The Campus.

Soto has since approached counseling by focusing on the connections between social justice and mental health. 

“To silo healing to a room and not consider the broader systemic dynamic is to ignore the oppression and injustices that impact our overall mental health,” Soto said.

At Middlebury, Soto’s role will include supervising counseling staff and creating policies that guide the college’s mental health services. He believes his progressive and innovative approach to work at the Center for Health and Wellness is crucial to transforming resources into something accessible and impactful for students seeking any kind of counseling.

Soto was excited to join Middlebury because of the college’s openness to experimenting with alternate models of counseling such as the Flexible Care Model, an approach to mental health on college campuses that provides fast access and more customized options for treatment. Soto hopes to expand such transformative and innovative services at Middlebury. 

The body and mind cannot be healed solely by self-care and focusing on surviving,” Soto said. “At some point we must address and identify the source of all our psychic suffering, which is whiteness, heteronormativity, patriarchal systems, etc.” 

Soto emphasized that healing must be placed in the broader context of systemic structures, which is where social justice ties in. 

These steps will include increased and more inclusive outreach and mental health services for a diverse student population, as well as questioning Eurocentric ideas surrounding mental health. He also looks to challenge the historically-dominant whiteness in the Middlebury community in order to create a more open environment for students.

President Laurie Patton also announced the appointment of Barbara McCall as the executive director of the Center for Health and Wellness on June 23. McCall previously oversaw health and wellness education at Middlebury. Patton’s announcement states that McCall has put an emphasis on going forward with a focus on “inclusive, collaborative, and integrated care for all Middlebury students.”

With new leadership from both Soto and McCall, the Center for Health and Wellness plans to move toward a more meaningful and inclusive approach for supporting students’ mental health on campus.