Access to low-cost counselling services improving in St. Albert

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Local clinic offering sliding-scale fees for therapy

Mental-health services are free in Alberta, but the wait times or admissions criteria can sometimes mean people go without the help they need.

For those who can afford private counselling, which can cost more than $100 per session, this may not be too much of a concern. For those on fixed incomes, it’s a different story.

“I think everyone just realizes that some people fall through the cracks one way or another, and it’s just about getting the right care for the right person at the right time,” St. Albert therapist Nicole Imgrund said.

To help meet the need for low-cost services, she has brought two master’s students in to River’s Edge Counselling Centre to meet with clients on a sliding fee scale, something that’s unique in St. Albert, as far as she knows.

She explained prior to starting this program, she would often have to refer clients who couldn’t pay to organizations in Edmonton, such as Catholic Social Services or Jewish Family Services. While therapists often do pro-bono work, the demand was outstripping supply.

After having one student on a year-long internship last year, Imgrund has brought in two this year with plans for a third either in the new year or by next September, and isn’t planning to stop there.

The students work under the tutelage of the other counsellors in the clinic, but in some cases may provide even better care than a more established counsellor.

“I think sometimes people get the best possible care from a student, because they’re in such a place of learning and they often have a smaller client load, so there’s time to really focus and process,” Imgrund said.

Sheila Chaba, who worked as an intern last year and returned this year while she works on her master’s thesis, said although the hours she’s put in have far outstripped the requirements for her program or for membership to professional associations, it’s worth her time to get the experience.

“There are many types of supervision experience, and I have to say that this is one of the best,” she said.

She said she got involved in counselling partly as a reaction to her own personal life experience, seeing it as a means to personal development, but also as a way to embrace the fact people just seem to feel comfortable talking to her.

For Grant Wardlow, the second student counsellor brought into the centre this year, the motivations are very similar.

“What brought me to the work has been my own journey and struggles with mental health,” he said. “Through my own therapy, learning about the process and really coming out the other side wanting to help others who are challenged in their own lives.”

Chaba added as a counsellor or therapist, being able to draw on one’s own experiences can be crucial in providing the help a client needs.

“I feel like I’ve gone quite a distance and can support my clients to the depths that they need to go,” she said.

Imgrund said while other agencies like Alberta Health Services or the St. Albert and Sturgeon Primary Care will often refer clients to her, clients also have the option of self-referral by simply phoning the office or visiting the website www.riversedgecounselling.com.

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Doug Neuman