Cheap mental therapy for the masses

From the Newberg Graphic, November 24, 2010

Mental health — GFU clinic with Providence funding helps meet need in Yamhill County

Dr. Joel Gregor stands before the George Fox Behavioral Health Clinic, located adjacent to the university’s Villa Academic Center.

Recognizing a need for low-cost mental health services in the county, Providence Health & Services-Oregon approached George Fox University’s department of clinical psychology in late 2008 about finding a solution. Two years later, GFU’s behavioral health clinic is meeting the need and growing steadily.

Dr. Joel Gregor stands before the George Fox Behavioral Health Clinic, located adjacent to the university’s Villa Academic Center.

Dr. Joel Gregor stands before the George Fox Behavioral Health Clinic, located adjacent to the university’s Villa Academic Center.

“We are just a small, outpatient community clinic designed to be a service to the entire community,” said Joel Gregor, director of the George Fox Behavioral Health Clinic (GFBHC).

Providence gave GFU a $25,000 grant to support the clinic, which launched in February 2009. Gregor, a licensed psychologist, was living in Dundee and working at the state mental hospital in Salem when GFU asked if he would be interested in helping start the clinic, working on a part-time basis.

With the help of one student from the school’s doctor of clinical psychology program (PsyD), Gregor started seeing a few clients in GFU’s Villa Academic Center (VAC). “That went really well, so we tried to grow the program,” he said.

In fall 2009, the team expanded to include three students and additional grants allowed Gregor to work more hours at the clinic and launched the remodel of the university’s Wright House, adjacent to the VAC parking lot. This fall Gregor, a 2007 PsyD graduate, has five students under him and is working full-time for GFU. He spends half his time as a professor and half at the clinic, which moved into its new digs last month and had a dedication Nov. 19.

The clinic acts as a practicum site for the PsyD students, who hold sessions there Mondays and Tuesdays. “It’s not just a good service for the community, but it’s a good training program,” Gregor said.

Some of the students already have master’s degrees in counseling or related programs, which is a boon for GFBHC, he explained, adding, “At other places, you’d pay a good deal for a master’s-trained psychologist.”

The clinic operates on a short-term model, with each therapy session lasting eight weeks. Clients are encouraged to make a goal for the session and, if they want additional help after their time is up, they can go back on the waiting list and return to the clinic.

“It allows us to help more people from the community and I think it gives therapy a momentum,” Gregor said of the model. Having a regular turnaround of clients is important as the clinic almost always has a short waiting list.

The clinic treats low-income or uninsured families, children, adults, couples and elderly or homeless people, who come with issues ranging from the basic (depression or anxiety) to the more serious mental illnesses (schizophrenia). GFBHC focuses on counseling and assessment; Gregor and the students he supervises do not dispense medication.

GFBHC generally serves 35 to 50 clients at a time — although its impact may be greater than that sounds, as a family counts as one client. The students do most of the counseling (8 to 10 clients each), with Gregor supervising.

Some clients hear about the clinic by word of mouth; others are referred by Providence Newberg Medical Center or by Love INC, which also gives out vouchers to those who can’t afford treatment at the clinic.

Although GFBHC’s prices are low — they range from $5 to $40 per session — no one is turned away for inability to pay, Gregor said, adding “Part of our mission is to be that safety net for the community. When they can’t get service elsewhere, we’re here.”

The clinic is handicap accessible and includes several treatment rooms, including a play therapy room and a big group therapy room, which has been used for periodic free parenting classes. GFBHC doesn’t only focus on therapy — the group behind it also works on side projects, such as a Parent Advice Line that began as one student’s dissertation. The advice line, available at 503-554-2366, is active from 7 to 8 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays, but parents can also leave messages there throughout the week. They have also talked about potentially launching a pediatric obesity program, Gregor said.

“I don’t know everything this clinic’s going to become in the future, but I’m excited because I think we have the potential to do a lot of good things,” he said.

Right now, they’re trying to get out the word about the clinic and what it can do. They hope to increase their client database, while keeping wait list time around an eight-week maximum.