Counseling Lifeline

Article excerpt

Byline: RICK FRIEDRICH and LAURA TAMKIN For The Register-Guard

CAROL CAME IN to the Center for Community Counseling for psychotherapy. She reported symptoms of daily tearfulness, a feeling of hollowness and recurring distressing images of ending her own life.

Carol is 49 years old, has a low income and is divorced from a husband who was verbally abusive over their 10 years of marriage. Her two grown children live in the Northwest. She had relocated to Eugene to live closer to her only sibling a few months before we saw her for counseling. She had tried an anti-depressant, but after having a bad reaction to one she was leery of taking medications. She had no health insurance at all when she called our office. She now has health insurance through her job, but not for mental health treatment.

The psychotherapy available through the Center for Community Counseling, formerly the Aslan Counseling Center, is provided by clinicians who have at least a master's degree. These clinicians volunteer their time, thus allowing the average fee per counseling session to be as low as $9 (compared to $50 to $150 for most private counseling). Clients can participate in counseling for as long as they need to resolve their difficulties.

Last year our volunteer therapists and supervisors donated 3,123 hours of counseling and supervision on behalf of our clients. At an average rate of $70 an hour (which is probably low), that is an in-kind contribution of more than $218,000 a year. This allows us to provide $2.70 worth of services for every dollar donated. Because our client fees are low, the CCC depends on donations and grants, which are difficult to obtain in the current climate. We have a great deal of loyalty from the mental health clinicians in this community. We will survive as long as we have the volunteers willing to see our clients, but it is a struggle at times.

This service is crucial for Carol and many others. Her lack of mental health coverage is not unusual. Nationally, more than 40 million Americans lack health insurance altogether; in Lane County, the number is greater than 28,000. Many more people lack adequate mental health benefits, even if they do have health insurance, due to a lack of parity between coverage for physical and mental illnesses. This disparity in coverage reflects the continuing discrimination against and stigmatization of those with mental disorders.

Lisa was referred for counseling by a local agency that offers support to parents of infants and young children. Lisa's biological parents were unable to raise her because of their drug and alcohol addictions. She witnessed many scenes of domestic violence before her aunt and uncle became her guardians at age 6.

She has been very angry and emotionally overwhelmed since the recent death of her uncle. She is a 22-year-old married pre-nursing student. The strain of caring for her 1-year-old and grieving the loss of her uncle have stretched her internal resources to the limit. She is uncertain about her parenting abilities and her capacity to be a partner to her husband. She doesn't know why she feels so angry.

Lisa wants a chance to make sense of what happened in her family, to look at how her childhood has affected her life, and to learn to be a good mother to her little one. …