Corban’s Partnership with Free Salem Clinics Meets Critical Mental Health Needs in Salem
November 29, 2021
“The state of mental health in Oregon is really bad, and here in Salem it’s even worse,” says Dr. Lori Schelske, associate professor and chair of the clinical mental health counseling department at the University. by Corban. Consulting firms across town are full, with long waiting lists. Many clinicians have stopped accepting health insurance and it’s almost impossible to find low rates, ”says Schelske.
Amidst this desperate climate lies Salem Free Clinics, an organization committed to providing free health care to uninsured people in the Greater Salem community. And at the heart of their clinical counseling service is the compassionate care of Corban University’s own students. In 2011, Salem Free Clinics formed a partnership with Corban University, and for the past ten years, Corban’s graduate counseling students have provided counseling services to community members with mental health needs.
As part of Corban’s Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program, students have the opportunity to give back to their community while gaining crucial hands-on work experience and hours of supervision, working as intern counselors for the Salem Free Clinic counseling center. “2021 marks the 10th anniversary of the Salem Free Counseling Clinic,” said Trina Fowler, CEO of Salem Free Clinics. “His consistency and excellent care for our patient population has been a tremendous gift to the Salem Free Clinics and our community. ”
Through this partnership, in line with the mission of the Salem Free Clinic, students are able to reach a diverse population that is often overlooked or exists on the fringes of society. “The clients who come are the unserved and underserved when it comes to mental health,” Schelske said. “These are people who don’t have mental health insurance or who are underinsured. We see people who are just trying to support a family without health insurance, people who are homeless. ”
“I am very grateful for the professionalism and vulnerability that Corban students show to their clients,” says Fowler. “We are hearing nothing but positive comments about the wonderful care people receive through this program. The people who use this resource cannot afford to go anywhere else, so this clinic is a blessing for so many people.
For Corban’s aspiring consulting professionals, the experience has been equally rewarding. “The clientele of the free clinics is very diverse,” says Jurgen Weissschuh, a graduate of the program, who now works at a consulting firm in Albany, Ore. “Some of my clients were on the verge of homelessness, others were suffering from severe trauma. We have seen clients with perhaps more difficult histories than most. But I wouldn’t have wanted to miss any of that.
For another program member, Lin Brownell, her experience was the basis of the work she now does as she runs her own private practice. “I am grateful that I have had the chance to work with a variety of different clients with different issues,” she says. “Because I had experienced such a variety, I felt well prepared to open my own private practice. Even this year, 5 years later, I drew on an experience with a client of the Free Clinic to help me orient myself with a new client.
The impact a Corban student can have on the community through their partnership with Salem Free Clinics can literally be life changing. “What people experience in counseling or what they get from it can affect their relationships, their work, their self-esteem and allows them to perform better in the workplace and have more dynamic and healthy relationships” , says Schelske. “This is why I am so passionate about training counselors who are not only strong Christians, but who are also excellent clinical counselors. ”
In turn, Salem Free Clinics offers students in Corban’s graduate counseling program the opportunity to obtain the required supervision hours. “For a lot of students, they really have to try to get rid of their supervision,” says Schelske. “For many this ends up being just administrative supervision – how to fill out papers – but at the free clinics in Salem, our supervision is really focused on counseling and clinical skills. ”
The result is a program that serves students where they are at, preparing them for their future careers, while providing a platform for them to give back while learning. “The transition to the internship at the Salem Free clinic felt very organic,” says Weissschuh. “Dr. Schelske helped us feel comfortable quickly and was excellent in helping us grow in our new role as counselors.
For Brownell, it was the opportunity to interact with other student interns that made the difference. “We were able to regularly share our experiences and offer ideas and encouragement, thus creating a sense of community,” she says. “We never asked ourselves when we would have our next period of supervision, as some interns experience elsewhere. ”
Deemed a “living laboratory” by Corban’s counseling faculty, cohorts also meet for weekly group devotions and have rare access to professional supervision. “I like to supervise interns. I love mentoring. I like being on the site with our students all day and having these very close relationships, ”said Schelske. “I can be interrupted from anything, and I like it because it’s my main job to be there for them.”
As the power of availability, empathy and intentionality is modeled by professors at Schelske and Corban, students at Corban are able to extend this model to their own professional development, by sitting down with clients who often come from traumatic contexts or difficult current life situations. They are taught to engage meaningfully with people who are in desperate need of help. “I have had days, weeks or with some clients, even months without any movement,” says Weissschuh. “Then all of a sudden I had a new insight through reading or supervising, and that helped me take a step forward. The momentum started to pick up and the client was able to open up.
It is the patient engagement process that often presents the greatest challenge for counseling trainees. Dealing regularly with clients who are angry, belligerent, or trapped in past trauma, the job of a clinical counselor is difficult at the best of times. “It is difficult for the counselor to learn how to increase the space that can hold and love those whom society would often find unfriendly,” says Schelske. “It takes work and requires a counselor to commit to working on themselves. And that’s one thing that I think sets our Corban graduates apart, that commitment to perfecting the use of yourself as an instrument in your work. It is transformative. In our program and at the clinic, we try to provide a space that helps them grow and be able to do so. ”
The integration of faith that underpins Corban’s clinical counseling program provides the platform for this type of transformation. “Although we may not always be able to expressly share our faith, we can learn to be Jesus in the room with them, even if they are not believers,” says Schelske. “We encourage our students to pray before and after the session as well as silently as they actively listen, knowing that God is making His plans for them and their client.”
In an industry of high burnout, Corban students learn to trust their faith, inviting God to participate in the process. “We remind them that at the end of a session, they can put all their things on God’s plate, and He will give them His peace,” said Schelske. “And isn’t that a great job? You might have to do it a hundred times a day, but we’ve got this supernatural help. ”
Given the dismal state of mental health in the community of Salem and surrounding areas, it is this added perspective – the unspoken prayers during the sessions and the knowledge of true redemption – that offers lasting hope. This is the same hope that Corban consulting professionals like Brownell and Weissschuh are committed to bringing to their clients.
“Aligning ourselves with our Creator’s plans and goals is what brings freedom, hope and life,” Weissschuh says. Brownell agrees. “The value that I am able to offer as a result of my time at Corban is the ability to help clients who wish to delve deeper into the intricacies of how they are in the world,” she adds. “They are able to learn a new way to navigate life.”
For Schelske, she sees Corban’s partnership with Salem Free Clinics as an integral part of Corban’s evangelical mission. This is why its important role in supervision has become a non-negotiable priority. Within every client, community and culture resides a need for holistic healing and transformation. And Schelske sees it every day. “Our students love so many people who do evil as God loves them,” she said. “This is what is really transformative. ”