Hood College training clinic offers low-cost therapy to community, students

·4 min read

Aug. 26—A recently launched clinic at Hood College in Frederick is offering therapy sessions for as little as $1.

The NeighborHood Counseling Training Center is housed in the basement of Hood's Tatem Arts Center, down the hall from a ceramics studio and art classrooms.

There, master's students in the college's counseling program are completing their required hours of field experience by administering therapy to other students and community members.

The students work under the supervision of Brandon Shurn, a licensed counselor and the clinic's director. All sessions are recorded, and Shurn watches them back. Each week, he meets with students to review their work and give them pointers.

The clinic serves the dual purpose of allowing students to work toward their counseling certifications and providing affordable care in the city of Frederick — which the federal government considers to have a shortage of mental health care providers, said Megan Shaine, who directs Hood's counseling master's program.

"Making mental health services accessible is key," Shurn said. "It's critical. This offers that opportunity."

Much of the work of the clinic is funded through a grant from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

HRSA designates areas around the country as "health provider shortage areas." Frederick city is a mental health care shortage area.

The Hood clinic started offering sessions to Hood students in January, Shaine said, and opened up to the broader community in July.

Right now, the clinic has six regular clients. It has capacity for 64 one-hour appointments per week, Shurn said.

"We definitely want to get the word out," Shaine said. "Folks often don't know what the resources are that they have."

Because the counselors are students, the clinic can't accept insurance, Shaine said.

But the costs are low. Sessions are offered on a sliding, income-based scale, with prices ranging from $1 to $40.

"We really want this to be an affordable and accessible resource," Shaine said. "If you're making $60,000 per year or above, you'll be at the top of that scale."

Shaine and Shurn acknowledged that some people might feel hesitant about having a student — who is not yet licensed as a professional counselor — as their therapist.

But they encouraged community members seeking affordable mental health care to keep an open mind.

"We place a premium on someone who has all the acronyms and the letters, not understanding that in order to get there, they had to get through this piece," Shurn said, referring to the thousands of hours of field experience people need to have before they earn the designation of Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC). "This is a non-negotiable."

Plus, Shaine said, master's students often have a unique perspective.

"I often find that our counselor interns, because they're the closest to their course material, are really fresh in their approaches and can sort of see things in new ways," Shaine said. "I think that's really nice for folks to experience, as opposed to a counselor who may have a lot of experience but may not be as flexible in terms of the approaches that they're trying."

The clinic aims mainly to target young adults — between 18 and 30 — dealing with what Shaine and Shurn described as "mild to moderate" depression, anxiety and relationship problems.

Master's students can vary widely in age. Shaine said she has had students as young as 21 and as old as 60.

Some people aren't eligible for the clinic's services, Shaine said, including those who are in active psychosis, have untreated bipolar disorder or are struggling with an addiction or eating disorder that isn't being treated elsewhere.

"But we always encourage people to call, because we can also be a good source of referrals for a more appropriate place of treatment," Shaine said. "It's better to call and connect than not call."

Eventually, the clinic will move to the new Ruth Whitaker Holmes School of Behavioral and Health Sciences, which will be at 700 Tollhouse Road, near Frederick Health Hospital. The college announced a lease agreement with Frederick Health for the property earlier this year, and renovations are underway.

Shaine said she hoped the move would be complete in 2023.

Appointments are offered from 4 to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Shaine said the clinic hopes to expand its hours once it moves to the new facility.

The Toll House Road building will also have space for group therapy and art therapy sessions, Shaine said. She hopes it will be more logistically convenient for clients, too, since parking on the Hood campus is limited.

"We're excited to be able to have this space to both train our students in a really hands-on way," Shaine said, "and also serve the community."

Follow Jillian Atelsek on Twitter: @jillian_atelsek