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Community Mental Health Clinic set to open in 2019

Nathan Pigott

FGCU senior Chelsea Torres has always been passionate about psychology. In high school, she spent time volunteering as a grief counselor at an organization that helps children who have lost family members or friends.

Working alongside these children, Torres noticed the positive impact she could make by helping her patients through the grieving process.

It’s this experience that confirmed her passion and gave her the dream of attending graduate school and earning her  Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology.

“I saw the difference I could make by paying attention and helping those who are going through difficult times,” Torres said. “I knew I wanted to go into psychology.”

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The FGCU Community Mental Health Clinic that is tentatively set to open in 2019 is being created to benefit students like Torres, who plan to enter a graduate clinical mental health program, as well as underserved populations in southwest Florida.

The clinic will allow graduate students in areas of study such as Clinical Psychology, Clinical Counseling, and School Counseling the opportunity to intern at the clinic and be supervised by professionals while also gaining first hand experience with actual patients.

“Essentially, this clinic is about providing internship and practicum experiences to our students while also serving community needs,” said Dr. Madelyn Isaacs, chair of the Department of Counseling and one of the driving forces behind the creation of the clinic.

The Community Mental Health Clinic will offer individual and group counseling as well as counseling services to families and couples.

FGCU School Counseling graduate students will also have the opportunity to offer specialized consultation to patients, gaining hands on experience in techniques such as play therapy that are widely used in clinical settings.

Isaacs also foresees assessment services, career counseling, and services that will help individuals with depression and anxiety.

The inspiration for the creation of the Community Mental Health Clinic comes from the limited availability of providers, or counseling professionals, in Lee County.

“This kind of clinic is typical for universities that have significant clinical mental health programs,” Isaacs said. “It provides excellent training and demonstration opportunities for our students while providing affordable and high-quality services to those in the community who are not otherwise served.”

According to a report conducted in Lee County, one in five people in the general population will be affected by a mental health issue every year.

On average in Lee County, there is one mental health professional per one thousand people.

As the number of individuals who are diagnosed with a mental health problem continues to increase exponentially, the supply of mental health professionals is unable to meet the rising demand.

Furthermore, according to research performed by Florida Policy in 2017, Florida “ranks last in the US for per capita mental health programs.” The same research found Florida spends on average $36.05 on mental health services per capita. The US average per capita is $125.90.

Those most disadvantaged are Floridians who are uninsured and unable to find affordable treatment.

“We have, on average, fewer providers and resources than our community needs,” Isaacs said. The creation of a mental health clinic to help alleviate the shortage of mental healthcare professionals has been in the works for FGCU for some time.

When Merwin Hall was designed in the late ‘90s, a suite was created to act eventually as a clinic. It wasn’t until 2016, after a gift from the Bartley family, that the plans for a clinic were set into motion.

Dr. Alise Bartley and her husband pledged one million dollars to FGCU for making counseling resources more available and more financially feasible for Southwest Florida residents in addition to creating a clinic that would allow students who plan to go into counseling to be trained under the direct guidance of professionals.

Bartley, who has practiced in Ohio for over twenty years as a family and relationship counselor, partnered with Isaacs to bring the idea of the Community Mental Health Clinic into fruition.

Prior to making the donation, Bartley had no connection to FGCU. She earned her Bachelor’s in Psychology from the College of Wooster and went on to earn her Ph.D. in counseling at the University of Akron before establishing a private practice in Stark County, Ohio.

It wasn’t until Bartley and her husband decided to move to Florida from Ohio that she started forging a connection with FGCU. Bartley always knew that she wanted to do more as a Marriage and Family therapist than have her own practice. She wanted to help as many people as possible have access to quality care, and decided to start a Marriage and Family program at a public university in Florida. Bartley and her husband Googled public universities in Florida, and Bartley recognized FGCU’s name from when she saw the basketball team featured on the Today Show in 2016 after they played in the Sweet Sixteen.

“There was just something about FGCU that connected with me,” Bartley said. “I think when I reached out to make the donation they thought I was crazy! They were really shocked, and wanted to know our motive. Our motive is simple: to start this clinic in order to help others.”

In addition to overseeing the creation of the clinic, Bartley will also train graduate students as Marriage and Family counselors.

“Being a Marriage and Family counselor has changed my life,” Bartley said. “And I just wanted to share that experience and share the blessings I have received in my life with others.”

The Community Mental Health Clinic will differ from Counseling and Psychological Services(CAPS) in several ways. One of the ways is that there will be a modest fee, whereas CAPS is free to students, and that the clinic will be available to FGCU faculty, who are not able to be seen at CAPS.

The clinic will also provide more outreach to lower income areas such as Immokalee and some parts of Fort Myers where mental health resources are hard to come by at an accessible fee.

“No one will be turned away,” Bartley said.

The clinic has been well received by students on campus.

“People tend to ignore their mental state until it becomes a bigger problem,” Brianna Linden, an art major in her senior year, said in an interview. “I think the clinic will help a lot. People don’t realize you don’t have to struggle; there are people who are there to help. This clinic will be that place.”

Torres echoed similar thoughts.

“I think that the stigma around mental health is fi nally starting to lessen,” said Torres. “Now is the time to impact and make a difference in the lives of those who need help.”

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