GSE’s Community Counseling Clinic quietly helps scores of clients

Clinic logs over 4,000 hours per year

The Community Counseling Clinic is nestled in a far corner of the fifth floor of the Graduate School of Education building. Many have no idea that such a clinic exists on campus or in this particular building; others will never forget the life-changing experiences they have had there. The Community Counseling Clinic is a training clinic for students in the Counselor Education program. It has been operational since the early 1980s; however, it has never been as critically needed by the community as it is now.

In recent years, the Portland Metro area has bid farewell to most low-cost and free counseling services. Large agencies that relied on donations and grants to survive have collapsed under the weight of economic stress, and many smaller agencies simply could not sustain the practice of offering low-cost services to the multitude of uninsured and/or unemployed people in need. The Community Counseling Clinic, however, has maintained its commitment and dedication to providing low-cost services to individuals, couples, families, and children.

Clients approach the clinic for assistance with a variety of concerns, such as: grief and loss, depression, anxiety, adjustment challenges, unemployment stress, adaptation to changes in physical ability, relationship distress, and addiction-related issues. Clients are offered consistent, weekly sessions on a sliding scale based on ability to pay. They can continue to be seen at the clinic until they feel they are ready to leave; most clients use between 10 and 25 sessions. Some stay for years, and others stay just long enough to be assisted through a crisis.

Most clients are referred to the clinic for services; they are matched with a counselor who is seeing clients as part of his or her initial practicum experience under supervision of a faculty member. In recent years the volume of clients approaching the clinic has increased by over 200 percent. Further, the severity of concerns that clients present has changed as mental health resources in the community evaporate and unemployment increases. The levels of depression, severe mental illness, suicide, and desperation have risen sharply, and many clients express that they simply have nowhere else to go for affordable help without a long wait. In many instances, callers express that they are on waitlists that exceed six months at other agencies.

The Community Counseling Clinic, in response to the heavier demand, created a service learning/internship opportunity for a trio of interns who spend nine months training and providing hundreds of hours of direct care to many of those clients with more severe and immediate needs. Further, the clinic has created a collaborative arrangement with post-master’s counselors who are recent graduates that agree to provide client care at a lower fee than their private practice rates. These counselors accrue hours toward licensure and receive supervision from program professors, and in return help meet the growing mental health needs of our community.

The students, staff, and volunteers who serve at the clinic all have the same mission: to provide low-cost, high-quality, immediate care to a diverse population in need. The clinic’s mission is supported by the Counselor Education Department faculty and staff and the Dean of the Graduate School of Education. The impact the clinic has on the community is quiet but powerful; with over 4,000 sessions provided last year, the clinic has filled a crucial gap in the community by providing services to individuals, couples, families, and children who would have likely gone without counseling if not for the clinic.

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