"Our services are for people who don't have anywhere else to go,” meaning those who can't afford to pay normal rates or whose insurance doesn’t cover mental health, Executive Director Sue Brooks explains. “We're the safety net for individuals, couples, families, all age groups," she notes. "Because all of us, at one time or another, may find ourselves in a situation of needing services and not having the resources to go to a private provider."
The nonprofit center charges a fraction of what clients would otherwise pay: Sliding-scale rates typically run $10 to $20 a session. And as government funding for mental health programs has dried up and the economy has tanked, All Souls’ services are needed more than ever, says Brooks.
"Mental health is a disaster out there," she declares. "There's a constant call from people wanting services. ... Because so many people are losing their jobs, there are more people out there that need help than before."
To help address that need, the center has grown significantly since opening its doors 11 years ago. Twenty experienced therapists now work part time at the homey building at 35 Arlington St., earning about a third of what they make in private practice.
Maureen Linneman, who’s worked at the center since 2002, says she likes it because "The emphasis is on the therapy, not on the paperwork.
"I'm given the ability to work with clients who are really in need, and really spend time with people, and not fill out a lot of forms," Linneman explains. "There's a lot of clients with anxiety and depression, which I think is often culturally based. People are isolated in their homes; they go from work to houses. ... I try to help people get back and reconnect with who they are as beings."
That approach seems to be working, notes Brooks: Clients, she says, often report drastic improvements in mood, self-confidence and their ability to relate to others. Many patients say the therapy provided the support they needed to get their life back on track, whether it meant staying in school or getting out of an unhealthy relationship.
Brooks backs up those stories by citing Global Assessment of Functioning reports, the standardized way mental health professionals measure progress.
"We have very high rates of GAF success," she reports. "It's amazing: People feel better after the first visit, because they're able to really sit down and unload on someone who's really listening to them. ... We want to be known as the rocking-chair place, because ... in years past, people sat on their front porches and rocked and shared and supported each other."
That success has translated into increased funding. The center is in the second year of a three-year, $150,000 grant from the Melvin R. Lane Fund, and it's gotten major infusions of cash from the Sisters of Mercy, United Way and Mission Hospitals.
The center's roughly $500,000 annual budget enables it to provide 8,000 sessions per year, serving about 1,000 individuals. Two bilingual therapists have joined the team, and about 5 percent of those clients are now Hispanic.
Development Co-Coordinator Kitty Price hopes the center can continue to expand, noting that Mission recently completed a study showing that donating money to All Souls actually saves the hospital money in the long term by cutting down on emergency-room visits.
"A mental issue in an emergency room is so expensive, it's like the health care money bomb," says Price. "A lot of people can walk back from grief and depression. But they have to get preventative services before it gets really bad, and that's what we offer."
Still, tracking down funding can be challenging, and "If we had more money, we could see more people," she notes.
Clients are initially screened to determine their financial status; after that, it typically takes two to three weeks to see a therapist. Those who don’t qualify are referred to other qualified mental health services.
"There's never a 'no' here," Price explains. "And I think a lot of people hear 'no' a lot when it comes to mental health in this community."
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