BYU students gain counseling experience at comprehensive clinic

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Kate Green
First-year clinical psychology Ph.D. students stand outside the Comprehensive Clinic. They will begin administering psychological assessments to real clients this October. (Kate Green)

Across the street from the BYU Creamery on Ninth lies a nondescript building obscured by trees. Most passing by would not take a second look, but inside, the next generation of psychology professionals is being trained.

BYU’s Comprehensive Clinic provides a training ground for post-graduate students to gain clinical skills by providing affordable therapy services to people in the community, according to the clinic director Dean Barley.

Graduate students working at the clinic belong to three different programs: clinical psychology, marriage and family therapy, and social work. Barley said roughly 100 student interns hone their abilities at the clinic and handle over 700 cases each year.

Graduate students begin taking clients within months of entering their programs, and classes focus on preparing them to see clients through theory discussion and role-playing according to Nicky Lin, a third-year marriage and family therapy master’s student.

Lin said she has gained confidence through working at the clinic. The more clients she sees, the more prepared she feels to work at a real clinic.

“You learn a little bit in the class, and then they shove you off the diving board into the deep end at the clinic,” said Meghan Maddock, a second-year clinical psychology major. “It is scary, but you learn a lot by just doing it.”

Barley described the clinic as apprenticeship learning and said working with clients is fundamentally different than practicing in a classroom.

“In order to learn the craft, students have to actually do it in a supervised, safe setting,” Barley said. “That is what we provide at the clinic.”

Distinct differences between the clinic and other mental health institutions create a suitable environment for the student interns, Barley said, and cases are first screened to assure they are appropriate for entry-level clinicians so patients receive the care they need.

“Because we are a training clinic, we do not have 24-hour emergency crisis help,” Barley said. “We screen out those people who we think would need crisis help, people who are suicidal or in violent situations.”

Another issue the clinic faces is the perceived ability of the student interns. Some people feel like they would get better service with already-licensed professionals, according to Barley.

Each student is mentored by licensed professionals, all therapy sessions are taped and students are given in-depth feedback on the session, Maddock said.

“It is not just a bunch of 20-year-old students who know nothing about being your therapist,” she said. “Even in the beginning, we know some things and we are only learning more.”

Maddock said students spend dozens of hours each week hitting the books for classes and, depending on the week, may spend another 10 hours gaining practical skills at the clinic.

“The student therapists work really hard and deserve some respect,” Lin said. “We do not get paid at all.”

Barley said one of the chief purposes of the clinic is to reduce human suffering, not to make money. This attitude is reflected in the costs of the clinic’s services.

A session of therapy costs $15 at the clinic, and psychological assessments cost $50. A session with a psychologist in the community typically costs over $100 and assessments cost $300–$600, according to Barley.

The one caveat to the price is that the clinic does not take insurance. Someone could typically get away with a $25 co-pay for a session if they have insurance, which makes prices more comparable.

“If they have insurance, they may feel they could get better service with someone already licensed. We would encourage them to do so,” Barley said. “It would be nice if we could reserve our services for those who need it.”

Barley explained that the policy of not taking insurance gives greater incentives for uninsured or under-insured people to come to the clinic. This lets the clinic treat people who otherwise would be unable to afford therapy due to their insurance status.

Barley also said the clinic has therapists who speak 15 different languages. This makes many services at the Comprehensive Clinic accessible to those who may face language barriers at other institutions.

By making mental health more accessible, the clinic provides a critical service to the community.

“After an assessment, clients will come in and say, ‘Oh, now I understand and now I know what I should do,'” Maddock said. “It is nice to see people have that energy and the clear vision of what they can do.”

To learn more about the services offered at the Comprehensive Clinic, visit their website.