About one in five adults will experience mental illness in any given year, but only half of them will get treatment. Cost can be a factor. A new program through Bastyr University offers a solution.

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Approximately one in five adults will experience mental illness in any given year, but only half of them will get treatment. Cost isn’t the sole barrier to mental-health-care access, but it ranks high on the list. Many providers don’t accept Medicaid and those that do often have lengthy waitlists and packed schedules. That means those in need of treatment may wait months for limited care. In a country where the stigma surrounding mental illness persists, seeking help can be a difficult step to take — and it can be a discouraging blow when a person who takes that step receives the message that there isn’t a place for them.

A program at Bastyr UniversityBastyr Center for Natural Health in Seattle may offer a solution. Under close monitoring by a licensed mental-health professional, student clinicians conduct 45-minute therapy sessions with clients ranging in age from 18 to 90 at a reduced rate of $20 per session.

The sessions address a range of issues, from mental-health conditions like depression and anxiety to situational stress caused by work, life transitions or relationships. Tom Farmer, assistant professor and director of clinical training for Bastyr’s counseling and psychology department, says that clients are seen in shifts throughout the day from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.

There is rarely, if ever, a waitlist.

“It’s really solid counseling in the sense that there’s an experienced staff overseeing it,” he says. The licensed professionals are just a few steps away in another room, and closely monitor each session through a live video feed. The sessions are structured much like any other therapy session, with the student clinician and client in chairs facing each other as they focus on concrete problem- and solution-based treatment.

“Clients might even forget that there’s a supervisor in another room watching the session,” Farmer says. “They get into the therapeutic process and will do the work for weeks and will just kind of forget that I’m even there.”

The exception, of course, is when an individual is in crisis. If a client is suicidal, in the midst of a manic episode, or exhibits psychosis, a licensed professional like Farmer watching the video feed can immediately step in to assess what needs to be done in order to best support the client. “[We’ll] either work with the student clinician in joint therapy, or work with the client on a referral in the community so they can address those more severe issues,” Farmer explains.

In general, clients work with the same student clinician for between 11 and 13 weeks (the length of the student clinicians’ academic quarter). “Our work does try to focus on specific issues, so [the clients] will work with the student clinicians for that length of time, or until the issue is resolved,” Farmer says. But that’s not a hard-and-fast rule — if clients need support for a longer period, they can always come back for the next quarter to continue working on behavior and health issues with a new student clinician.

Mental health impacts every aspect of our lives, and everyone can benefit from counseling — not just those who suffer from severe, chronic mental illness. As Farmer points out, stress is a prime risk factor for a number of physical illnesses.

“Mental health is related to a lot of the more important things in life, like how we manage relationships, how we feel connected, moving towards people rather than away from people,” Farmer says. It’s directly related to our satisfaction and happiness in life, which means we’re more effective in every endeavor we take on, whether it’s raising children, being a good employee, or excelling at a passion like running marathons.

“Getting good mental-health services doesn’t just promote the absence of depression or anxiety,” Farmer says. “It promotes us living fully as holistic human beings.”


Other low-cost/sliding scale counseling options in the Greater Seattle area

NAMI Seattle: Offers free, peer-facilitated support groups for individuals living with mental illness, as well as family members and friends.

Full Life Care: Payment options include Washington State Medicaid/Apple Health, private pay and sliding scale.

Center for Human Services: Offers mental-health counseling and accepts King County Medicaid, which is a state health benefit. Low-cost services available based on income and household size.

Community Psychiatric Clinic: Accepts Medicaid.

Kent Youth and Family Services: Sliding-scale fee depending on income; accepts Medicaid, medical coupons and most insurance.

Mercer Island Youth and Family Services: Offers a sliding scale if necessary.

Vashon Youth and Family Services: Accepts Apple Health and Medicaid.