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Double Impact

May 24, 2013

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A tough economy, job losses, and demographic shifts have increased the need for affordable mental health care at the same time as funding for such care has declined precipitously. In January 2012, Lewis & Clark faculty and students stepped in to help fill the gap. The Graduate School of Education and Counseling opened the Lewis & Clark Community Counseling Center on Barbur Boulevard, just a mile from downtown Portland.

Only two years in to the clinic’s operation, it is doubling its size and its impact. Starting in January 2013, the clinic will be staffed with almost double the number of counselors-in-training, who will be able to see 150 additional clients right away in six new individual therapy rooms and two new group therapy rooms. In addition, free services for problem gamblers and their families will expand from weekend-only hours to weekday hours. The expansion is funded by a $50,000 grant from the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde through the Spirit Mountain Community Fund—money that comes from profits at the tribal casino.

State-of-the-Art Treatment and a Cutting-Edge Education

Since opening, the center has served nearly 1,000 clients, providing low-cost counseling services to individuals, couples, and families with general mental health issues, relationship problems, or addictions, including gambling problems. (Problem Gambling Services are available free to any person in Oregon who is affected by gambling and are funded through the Oregon lottery.)

All therapists are Lewis & Clark graduate students in the third and last year of one of three counseling programs: addictions, mental health, or marriage, couple, and family therapy. Experienced Lewis & Clark faculty provide live supervision during sessions. Hands-on work with clients is part of most clinical counseling programs, but the close, state-of-the-art mentoring at Lewis & Clark sets this clinic apart. Every treatment room has a live video feed, and group therapy rooms have two-way mirrors to allow supervisors and other students to watch sessions. Faculty can offer guidance through an earpiece the student therapist wears. The expansion will include the same cutting-edge technology.

Boyd Pidcock, associate professor of counseling psychology and director of Lewis & Clark’s addiction counseling program, says utilizing trainee therapists “allows us to serve clients who may not otherwise have access to mental health services. The natural integration of education and high-quality care allows us to make a long-term, effective commitment to the community. That’s essential because the need is so great.”

Linda King, a case manager with the Portland nonprofit Neighborhood House, says, “Many of our clients have never sought help for mental health or haven’t had the resources to do so. At Lewis & Clark, we can usually schedule them for intake interviews in days rather than weeks or months, and the financial responsibility is reasonable and affordable.”

Broad Access to Care

In the United States, the high cost of mental health services is the main barrier to treatment. Recent data from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration show that nearly 20 percent of American adults have a mental illness or disorder but just 38 percent of them receive care. Fully 50 percent of Americans with any mental illness cite high cost as the reason for not getting treatment.

Even those fortunate enough to have health insurance may find that their policies do not cover the full cost of treatment or exclude services such as couples or career counseling.

For these reasons, the Community Counseling Center strives to serve members of all Portland-area communities. Services are offered in English and Spanish. “We invite clients from all walks of life, especially those who may not seek or have access to good-quality mental health care,” Pidcock says.

Growing to Serve the Community

The ability to add new services is a measure of how Lewis & Clark’s counseling center is thriving. More than 85 Lewis & Clark graduate students are now working there—the number will rise—and full treatment rooms attest to outreach programs’ success. “It’s been huge,” Mueller says. “Just when we think we can ground ourselves a bit, new doors open because of our faculty members’ individual passions and community involvement. We’re constantly discovering new ideas to incorporate and new ways of helping students serve the community.”

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