Ivie Hall, a graduate student in clinical counseling psychology and Brenau University alumna from Gainesville.

Student Counselors Address a Need

Each of the past five years, the Brenau University Department of Psychology has received a grant from the United Way of Hall County to place student counselors in agencies that don’t have a mental health counselor on staff, yet have a need for it in their clientele. But the partnership has proven to benefit more than just the clients. It’s the students who really profit.

Ivie Hall, a second-year graduate clinical counseling psychology student, knows how to help her clients at Myrtle Terraces, an active adult senior living property in Gainesville, Georgia.

The Gainesville native has trained for two years to lead her group sessions with the active adults at Myrtle Terraces. She has skills and tools to share. Yet her ability and passion for supporting seniors starts with her relationship with her grandmother, Edith Anderson.
“I am extremely close to my grandmother,” she says. “She is, really, my best friend. In learning about her and, as an adult, having a relationship with my grandmother, I’ve had a different vantage point. I hear her stories from the past or about things she is dealing with now, but in a language that others might not hear. I think my relationship with my grandmother has both helped me and drawn me to that population because of how close our relationship is.”

For five years, Brenau has received an annual community investment grant from the United Way of Hall County to place student counselors like Hall in agencies in the county that don’t have a mental health counselor on staff but have a need for mental health counseling for their clientele.

Because of this grant, students like Hall get their practicum experience and citizens like those at Myrtle Terraces get the mental health support they need.

The Grant

“The initial goal of the grant was sort of dual purpose,” says Kristen Green, clinic director of the Brenau Center for Counseling and Psychological Services, assessment coordinator for the M.S. in Clinical Counseling Psychology program and an assistant professor of psychology. “The United Way has a number of agencies that are also partner agencies that work with individuals who are in need of mental health services but cannot afford them. At the same time, we have students in our graduate training program who need to get clinical hours. So we began to think about that. In fact, agencies came to us and asked, ‘Can we have a student?’ We had some obstacles to overcome first.”

The biggest obstacle was providing supervisors for students, Green says. Students in clinicals are required to be supervised by an LPC, or licensed psychologist. “The agencies obviously were in need of mental health care support,” Green says, “which meant they didn’t have anyone like that on staff.”

Thus the department asked the United Way to help fund the cost of paying supervisors, as well as a small stipend to incentivize the program to students. “Another difficulty is sometimes students don’t want to work with, what can be, more challenging populations,” says Green. “These placements can be challenging from a clinical standpoint, but also because there are a lot of barriers to treatment with individuals who are receiving services from places like Salvation Army, Family Promise, things like that.”

Dr. Green is the Clinic Director of the Brenau Center for Counseling and Psychological Services-Gainesville, Assessment Coordinator for the M.S. in Clinical Counseling Psychology program at Brenau, as well as an Assistant Professor of Psychology
Dr. Kristen Green, clinic director, Brenau Center for Counseling and Psychological Services, Gainesville

The Need

These barriers are both greater and simpler than finances. Sometimes transportation, consistency and routine in a family or individual’s life can prevent treatment.

“We are able to offer group and individual counseling services to individuals who may not have access, whether it’s financial or, often, a lack of access to transportation,” Hall says. “By this partnership, we’re able to go out as students and reach them in their own environments.”
Hall goes twice a week to Myrtle Terraces to provide group counseling to the residents. “It’s typically small groups, and I have five to 15 people attend at any given time,” she says. “Certain topics that come up would be issues related to aging, or perhaps the transition of moving from their prior independent living to the residential living facility. So that means you’re also talking about loneliness, grief, loss, death and dying.”

Sometimes, these partnerships don’t work out. Either the students can’t provide the services needed at the agencies, or – more commonly – the agencies don’t provide enough hours to the students who need the clinical experience.

“But for the most part, we’ve been able to maintain a working relationship and have students at many different agencies,” Green says.

“We are reaching individuals and families who otherwise would never receive mental health care.”

Dr. Kristen Green, clinic director, Brenau Center for Counseling and Psychological Services, Gainesville

This year, Myrtle Terraces is one of nine agencies currently placing 11 graduate student counselors from Brenau. The others are Salvation Army, Family Promise of Hall County, Good News Clinics, Gateway Domestic Violence Center, the Gainesville Community Senior Center, My Sister’s Place, Boys & Girls Clubs of Lanier and SAFFT, or Supporting Adoption and Foster Families Together, an organization that opened its first Hall County office in 2016.

Mark Mobley, director of strategies and programs for SAFFT, said the services offered to his families by Brenau students “helps tremendously.” Mobley said the organization considered ACE scores, or tallies of different types of abuse, neglect and other hallmarks of a rough childhood, when it considered adding mental health services to its current program. Results indicated that scores were not only high in the children, but in adults the center serves as well.

“We really saw a cycle of trauma, abuse, neglect and pain,” Mobley says. “We felt the best way to combat that was to bring in professional health to mitigate the damages done by that trauma. Being able to use professional counselors in training has opened up access for clients that couldn’t afford this care on their own, because poverty is a huge factor in our client base. The partnership with Brenau has been, really, a godsend for our clients.”
This, says Green, is the whole point.

“We are reaching individuals and families who otherwise would never receive mental health care,” Green says. “Sometimes the intervention they get is very brief, and we in essence provide an introduction to how counseling might help them. But we hope to at least plant a seed that seeking mental health care and counseling is not taboo and is not a bad thing.”

The Benefit

Clinical counseling psychology is a second career path for Hall, after graduating from Brenau in 2007 with a degree in marketing. She worked for a decade in human resources in the health care industry, brushing shoulders with people who do what she would soon aspire to do. “I enjoy relationship building, the process of people understanding other people, other cultures and why we do the things we do,” she says. “It’s about how to reach people in a nonthreatening way, in a way that empowers them to do what makes them happy and to know that power does lie within them.”

Some might wonder what “needs” for mental health care might present themselves at agencies like Salvation Army or Good News Clinics. Green says her students face everything from chronic mental illness, depression or anxiety, to individuals who are simply at “a rough spot in life.”
Over the past five years, Green estimates nearly 400 people a year have been helped through the partnership, some repeat clients and others new each year. Sometimes, the students work on short-term placements, while other clients have stuck with the placements for years and transfer right to the next student at the end of the year. And it’s not just group therapy like that Hall offers at Myrtle Terraces. Students can offer one-on-one treatment on a case-by-case basis as well.

Hall says she thanks the United Way for investing not only in the community, but in her and students like her.

“This is great experience for our students,” says Green. “It exposes them to a wide diversity of clients, while providing them with clinical training. But they get the opportunity to work with clients from complex life situations, so they get a really good picture of how mental health issues can be exacerbated by life circumstances and how they should work differently with clients in each circumstance to help them be successful.”

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