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SHSU Program Provides Mental Health Services For Area

Thousands of Texans were affected this year when the state legislature made budget cuts to a number of state agencies and programs.

Among those affected were individuals who lost psychological and counseling services that had previously been provided by state funding. Thanks to a clinical psychological training program at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, many of those in Southeast Texas have a place to turn.

"When the Texas Legislature decreased funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program, adult coverage for Medicaid, and the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, the Psychological Services Center at the university absorbed many clients who lost services with the cuts," said Mary Alice Conroy, SHSU professor of psychology and director of the center.

"We became a resource that people very desperately need in this area," she said.

The Psychological Services Center opened in 1999, the year after Sam Houston State began offering the doctorate in forensic clinical psychology. Last fiscal year (Sept. 1, 2002 through Aug. 31, 2003) clinicians saw 170 patients. Forty-four patients have been seen since Sept. 1 when the budget cuts to the state programs went into effect, and projecting from this figure Conroy expects to see a 30 percent increase over last year's figure.

"The clinic is a place where students at the post-master's level learn and hone their doctoral skills in both clinical and forensic work," said Conroy. "We try to keep our students up to absolute state-of-the-art techniques and things that we know to be effective."

The clinic offers a full range of assessment and psychotherapy for children, adolescents, adults, and couples, and serves individuals who live in Walker, Montgomery, Polk, Grimes, San Jacinto, Madison and Leon Counties.

"Some of our clients see the ad in the phone book and come to us by self-referral," said Conroy. "Others are referred to us by agencies who know about our work."

Among those who make referrals to the clinic are local and area hospitals, the state Mental Health and Mental Retardation Department, the Texas Rehabilitation Commission, a Conroe pediatric clinic, area physicians, law enforcement agencies, and probation departments. The clinic even receives referrals from the SHSU Counseling Center for assessments that the counseling center does not do.

Clients who come to the clinic have a large range of concerns, ranging from problems with a current stressor to psychosis or thoughts of suicide.

"We prioritize those with the most severe problems," said Conroy, "and we make referrals to psychiatrists for psychotropic medication if that is appropriate."

If an individual needs medication as a part of therapy, the clinic serves as a liaison between patients and their psychiatrists.

"Because psychiatric services are so limited in this area, particularly for people with no insurance and who can not pay," Conroy said, "we often talk with psychiatrists about seeing people only for medication purposes. We'll continue their treatment and we'll provide the psychiatrist with evaluations. This way there is some chance that the patient can afford psychotropic medication, even if they can not afford to pay for anything else."

Fees at the clinic are determined by income and the number of people in the client's family.

"We also contract with agencies in the area, and in the smaller counties we often contract with them in relationship to their budgets for evaluations and treatments," said Conroy.

Typically, in the case of a self-referral a client will call in and talk to one of the graduate student clinic coordinators.

"This takes about 15 minutes," said Conroy. "The coordinators get basic information, and we then determine whether or not we can provide a service for the client.

"Even if we can provide the service needed by a client, we sometimes tell them, 'We can do this, but I have a better referral for you'," Conroy explained.

Sometimes, the clinic will get calls for services that they cannot do, such as rehabilitation for brain injuries.

"Assuming that we can provide the service needed, the person will be assigned to a clinician," said Conroy. Clinicians are doctoral students supervised by a licensed psychologist who is a faculty member or outside supervisor who teaches in the psychology program as an adjunct faculty. Currently there are four clinicians working 20 hours a week, and one working 10 hours a week, providing 90 hours a week of service.

If there is no waiting list, the client will receive a call from the clinic within 48 to 72 hours.

"If we have a waiting list, we will inform them approximately how long the wait will be and how much the fee will be," said Conroy.

The clinic does not take insurance for a variety of reasons, one of which is "to serve the underserved," which is one of the clinic's missions, Conroy said.

"A lot of people who have insurance perhaps have some coverage, and we are trying to help the least-served people first," said Conroy.

Another goal of the clinic is to serve a diverse ethnic mix of clientele. This summer the clinic met with a focus group of community members, and the topic was how to better outreach the various minority populations in the area.

Conroy has promoted the activities of the SHSU Psychological Services Center by meeting with administrators of mental health agencies and hospitals, serving on community boards, and speaking with officials in the criminal justice system. She has also arranged for the SHSU doctoral students in the program to provide psychological education and training for staff members who work in agencies dealing with mental health.

Feedback about the clinic has been good, and Conroy is pleased with the results of the program's efforts.

"We have heard good things from the community," she said, noting that clients sometimes make the best referrals when "they refer other people to us."

Conroy pointed out that the clinic has maintained the agency referral network, which indicates satisfaction with the clinic's services.

"Not only have we maintained the network, we've expanded it," she said. "Obviously, people are going back to whomever made their referrals and are happy with the service."

To contact the Sam Houston State University Psychological Services Center in Huntsville, call 936.294.1210.


Media Contact: Julia May
October 15, 2003
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Assistant Director: Julia May
Writer: Jennifer Gauntt
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