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Couple and Family Therapy Center has been a mainstay in the local mental health community for 20 years

By Steve Hansen, Photos by Jordan Hartman '02

The winter months, especially around the holidays, are the busiest at PLU's Couple and Family Therapy Center. Especially during the evenings, the ground floor of the East Campus building bristles with energy, its four counseling rooms serving as an essential component of Pierce County's social safety net.

“There's a real need in the community for mental health services for the uninsured,” said Marriage and Family Therapy graduate student and center Coordinator Shannon Armitage '04. PLU's center provides it—and has been doing so for 20 years.

Since 1984, the center has been giving people the tools to solve their problems—from couples working on their relationship to people battling drug abuse to adolescents ordered to counseling by a judge. The program also works with children.

Students Katrina Robinson ‘05 and Matt Youngberg ‘04 discuss counseling.

Students Katrina Robinson ‘05 and Matt Youngberg ‘04 discuss counseling.

There is no “typical” client. “I wish there was a typical client,” Christina Holland '04 said. “It would make [providing therapy] so much easier.” Most clients are the working poor and, for this reason, services cost as little as $10 per session—one of the lowest fee scales in the state.

According to professor and center Director Charlie York, the center works with the people most in need—clients who are on a waiting list or cannot afford or do not qualify for therapy at other mental health clinics. Such a need has been exacerbated in recent years—when the economy is in a slump, mental health units have less funding and can accept fewer clients. PLU's clinic has been hard at work filling this void.

The center's unique position has a side benefit: the sheer variety of clients, as well as the volume and breadth of casework, ensure that the experiences of the student therapists are unparalleled. According to PLU professor Cheryl Storm who, with York, oversees the center, “students are hot tickets in the job market.”

Duke White '97 is one of those hot tickets. He had been working in the mental health community for more than 20 years but knew the PLU MFT program would put new tools at his disposal. “I already had a lot of experience, but PLU's MFT program fine-tuned me,” White said.

“If we didn't have a clinic, it would be difficult to maintain the quality in the education that we are known for.” - Professor Cheryl Storm.

In 1999, White established the Foundation for Multicultural Solutions, an agency that provides multicultural and bilingual family-centered support services to people in the Tacoma area. He specializes in working with families and children, many ordered to him by a judge or Child Protective Services.

Tough work, said White, but the rewards are great. When he is able to help a runaway youth return to his or her parents, or enable a foster child to adjust to his or her new home, he knows he has made a difference. And the foundation upon which such successes are built, in part, came from his work at the CFT Center. “The diversity of clients at PLU is so great,” he said, that it complemented his previous experience.

Most students don't have White's background. The center proves an invaluable opportunity for students to develop experience in a working clinic while still under the supervision of licensed mentor. The center enables students the opportunity to apply what they've learned in an environment that is supported by their peers and professors. “If we didn't have a clinic, it would be difficult to maintain the quality in the education that we are known for,” said Storm.

The CFT Center is run by students. Professors York and Storm oversee the program, but students take care of the nitty-gritty—from scheduling to diagnosis to making sure the printer has enough toner. All students work in the clinic at least one semester of the six- to seven-semester master's program. At any given time, a student will have 10 to 15 cases, on which they work in pairs, as co-therapy teams. The arrangement allows students, who are becoming confident in their skills, to work with each other, offering different perspectives and ideas. “Working in teams helps you understand that the way you see things isn't the only way to see things,” said Holland.

The center also serves another purpose. Aside from providing mental health services for an underserved population and enabling supervised opportunities for students to address those needs, the CFT Center is one more opportunity for PLU to serve the community as a whole. “It puts PLU out there,” said York. “It is consistent with the service component of a Lutheran education.” Armitage has a similar opinion. “The clinic has a real neighborly relationship with this community,” she said. “People here know that the university is for them.”



© Scene 2004  •  Pacific Lutheran University  •  Spring 2004

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