Community members will soon have access to affordable mental health counseling services offered by the Department of Clinical Mental Health Counseling at the University of North Georgia (UNG).
The department plans to open a clinic near the Dahlonega Campus, where it will offer counseling services to the public for a nominal fee. Students of the graduate-level program, which is part of the College of Health Sciences & Professions, will begin training at the facility this month, with plans for the clinic to be open to the public by January 2015.
"The new clinic for the Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program will meet a variety of needs for the students in the program as well as for the Dahlonega and Lumpkin County community," said Dr. Bob Michael, interim dean of the College of Health Sciences & Professions. "With sophisticated observation and communication systems and space for a variety of clinical counseling formats, the clinic is perfectly suited to provide students with well-supervised clinical practice. Faculty and students will also provide much-needed clinical mental health counseling services to the community, thus continuing the mission of outreach and service that is the hallmark of the College of Health Sciences & Professions."
Dr. Clay Rowell, department head of clinical mental health counseling, said the clinic will provide low-cost mental health counseling services by students under the supervision of faculty. Though the clinic will serve only adults initially, he hopes the facility can eventually serve adolescents and children as well.
"Lumpkin and many surrounding counties are severely lacking in licensed mental health counselors," Rowell said. "The job growth for mental health counselors is expected to rise at a rate higher than average through 2020. It is projected that close to 70,000 new counseling jobs will be created nationally by then."
UNG's mental health counseling students previously completed all clinical experience in the field. Students will continue to have field experience, but the clinic will provide additional experience and also serve as an internship site for a small number of students.
The clinic will use state-of-the-art technology and software to record students' sessions so they can examine their performance with faculty to improve. Clients seeking counseling at the clinic will be asked to sign a release acknowledging the recording, as it will be an important learning tool.
"We hope to pair some clients with students," Rowell said. "The technology and software system we will be using to record the sessions is absolutely top-notch, and will aid us greatly in helping professors give feedback to their students."
The department recently selected Dr. Susan Hurley, most recently assistant professor of counseling at the University of South Florida, to lead the clinic. She will help guide students through feedback from counseling sessions beginning this summer.
"This clinic will allow the program to be much more hands-on," said Ariel McClure, a student in the program. "It will ensure that we already have experience when we begin face-to-face sessions with clients who need our help."
In 2006, UNG's Clinical Mental Health Counseling program, which has 36 students currently, earned accreditation by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs.
The College of Health Sciences & Professions, established in January 2013 as the newest college within the University of North Georgia, includes the Department of Clinical Mental Health Counseling, the Department of Nursing, and the Department of Physical Therapy.