The High Value of Cheap Counsel

August 17th, 2011 by Editor B

Passing from Infancy to Manhood (Fractal Flame ref. round-100-2-212)

Back when I lived in Bloomington, Indiana, I availed myself of counseling services at the Center for Human Growth twice.

The first time was when I was an undergraduate living in the Collins LLC. The Center for Human Growth was nearby at that time, and at some point I became aware of them and decided it would be interesting to check it out. The Center offers low-cost counseling to anyone who needs it. I’m not sure if I had a pressing issue — that was twenty-some years ago, and my recollections are somewhat vague. I think I may have gone out of general principle. We could all use some counsel from time to time, as a matter of good mental hygiene. I might have been in the throes of breaking up with my girlfriend, or trying to quit smoking, or something else; I’m really don’t remember. I do recall feeling my series of sessions was extremely beneficial to my personal development, and I’ve been an advocate of counseling ever since.

A decade or so later, as my dad and I were struggling to come to terms, we sought counseling. First we went to a guy in private practice who was recommended by a friend. He was expensive. Probably his rates were standard, but he was much too expensive for me to share the cost, given my lack of income at the time. So my father was footing the bill. Dad didn’t like the guy much, and when the going got tough we almost foundered.

Fortunately we ended up back at the Center for Human Growth. Their fees were so low that I was able to pay a share, which felt much better. (I don’t remember what they charged in the 80s or 90s, but I see on their website it’s now $15 per session, which is extraordinarily cheap.) The sessions were not easy. It’s hard work to salvage a relationship. But the counselors were extremely helpful and very professional. I give a lot of credit to the Center for the fact that I’m still on speaking terms with my parents today.

I think this underlines the problem with counseling: It does tend to be expensive. It usually involves an educated person working with you one-on-one. The counselor has to charge a high fee to make a living. But for many people, spending a lot on counseling fees only adds an element of stress, at a time when they are likely most vulnerable and really don’t need that extra stress. So the benefits of counseling tend to be limited to the well-to-do, or those who are truly at the end of their rope. That’s my impression, anyhow.

In my utopian dreams, I imagine a world where we all visit counselors from time to time, from a very young age, and not just when we’re in crisis. Counseling is so beneficial that we should share the cost of underwriting it, to make it cheaply available to all. I think a proactive approach would have enormous benefits to society as a whole.

All these ruminations are a sort of preface to my query. Do we have anything like the Center for Human Growth in New Orleans? Given how often I’ve heard about the dearth of mental health services, I suspect that we do not. But if we do, I’d love to know about it.

Graphic: Passing from Infancy to Manhood (Fractal Flame ref. round-100-2-212) by Exper Giovanni Rubaltelli, licensed under Creative Commons

7 Responses to “The High Value of Cheap Counsel”

  1. Jon Konrath Says:

    I don’t know if it’s still the case, but back in the day, Counseling and Psychological Services at the health center in Bloomington gave each student something like one or two free sessions a semester, to everyone who paid the health fee as part of their bursar’s bill. I remember my RA was a big advocate of going and using your free appointment that you paid for anyway, whether you needed it or not.

    The other issue was that at the time, there was a huge stigma about going to therapy. (This was pre-Prozac revolution.) I’d imagine that even if counseling were available free to everyone, there would be some resistance in inner-city type environments for people to go.

  2. Editor B Says:

    Ah yes, you’re jogging my memory, Jon. I think I went to a session or two there. I recall not being particularly impressed, but I came with an odd issue which I needn’t get into here.

    You’re right about the stigma. In my utopia, of course, we’d erase that by normalizing counsel. It would just be something everyone does as a matter of course.

  3. Anne Says:

    The Family Justice Center of New Orleans offers counseling mostly for relationship and “family violence” issues for free or very low cost. It’s probably not what you are looking for but possibly worthwhile for others:

    http://www.familyjusticecenter.org/Details/New-Orleans-Family-Justice-Center.html

  4. Garvey Says:

    Most churches offer something like this.

  5. Mother Mary Says:

    Mercy Family Center, Jewish Family Services, Family Services of Greater New Orelans, Trinity Counseling, … that’s what I can remember off the top of my head. Mostly they offer a sliding scale, which can still get expensive. $25/week for 6-12weeks adds up FAST, and can be prohibitive even for a middle income family.

  6. chrissieroux Says:

    Bart! I’ve worked for Jewish Family Service for over 4 years, and at Trinity Counseling for 2 years before that. Both are sliding scale agencies–fees start at $20/session. Neither place has a limit on number of sessions.

    Family Service offers the same kind of thing.

    I also think that if every therapist in private practice kept a few sliding scale spots, more people could access therapy.

  7. chrissieroux Says:

    I think the general discussion around the dearth of mental health services is really about services for the severely and chronically mentally ill–those who really need community-based support but whose only option in this city is hospitalization or no help at all.

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