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Local university offers free counseling for community members during summer months

Cost and long wait times can be a barrier to mental health care

Carroll University
Carroll University campus on May 24, 2024. Margaret Faust/WPR

A Waukesha clinic is removing barriers to mental health care by offering free counseling through August.

For the second year in a row, the Carroll University Community Counseling Center is offering free counseling to Wisconsinites during the summer months.

Shannon Skaistis, clinic director and adjunct professor in the behavioral health psychology program at the university, said the program was built to address the demand for mental health services.

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“This is also a way for us to provide services to folks who have need but who might not otherwise be able to be seen,” Skaistis said.

Of the more than 57,000 adults in Waukesha County living with a mental illness, 66 percent of them go untreated, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Studies show cost and long wait times stand in the way of people getting the help they need.

At the Waukesha clinic, clients don’t need insurance or proof of residence to be seen. Skaistis suspects the “low barrier to entry” is helping.  

“My sense is that when there are fewer barriers, people have less reticence to reach out,” she said.

Waukesha County Health & Human Services said in a statement it’s happy to support the university clinic as it sees a “significant rise in the need for mental health services.”

“We’ve seen an increasing number of individuals across the lifespan seeking mental health support,” the statement said. “The CCC’s (Community Counseling Center) commitment to providing services free of charge ensures that mental health support is accessible to some of our community’s most vulnerable members.”

Expanding educational opportunities for aspiring clinicians

Faculty, along with master’s students in the behavioral health psychology program, staff the clinic. Instead of being compensated, students accrue hours toward the completion of their licensure.

This is the first time student Abigail Aden is providing direct therapy in sessions with clients. She said it’s a great experience in addition to coursework.  

“Doing this practical will allow me to have real-life experience with patients. And it’s giving me the opportunities to progress in my program,” Aden said.

She’s been going to school in Waukesha for five years now. She said she’s seen a need for affordable counseling services and the free clinic is a less intimidating way to ask for help.

“It just seems like a very inclusive and open environment for people who want to get counseling services free in our community,” Aden said.

The program wraps up Aug. 22. Skaistis said the goal is to help clients find free or low-cost providers in the community to continue their treatment.

“When I’m talking to folks in the community, they have just expressed that their capacities are sometimes maxed out. And so having another resource is really helpful,” Skaistis said.

The hope is to eventually extend the program to operate year-round.

The clinic is designed for people ages 14 and older. It doesn’t offer family or couples therapy or court-ordered services. It’s open two days a week and offers in-person and virtual appointments.

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