Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

DU clinic offers affordable mental health care

A mental health clinic in the Graduate School of Professional Psychology offers low-cost services to DU and the Denver community and at the same time gives graduate students valuable experience in counseling clients.

For more than 30 years, the Professional Psychology Center has paired doctoral level graduate students who treat clients with licensed professionals who provide intensive supervision. Each year, the clinic has about 10,000 therapy sessions.

Fernand Lubuguin, a clinical assistant professor and the clinic’s director, says the clinic is one of the most affordable places in Denver, yet it offers the latest treatment modalities and a broad range of approaches to mental health care. He says it’s a valuable resource for those without health insurance.

Fees are $15–$60 per hour and are based on financial circumstances and ability to pay. Social security disability recipients are treated for just $5 per hour. Clients go through a screening and evaluation process to ensure the clinic can provide the type of care they need. The first three appointments are consultation sessions — a way to test the waters to see if it’s a good fit. 

Clients must be willing to be videotaped in session, because those videorecordings allow faculty and licensed professionals from the community to review the doctoral students’ work with clients. 

Students are closely supervised: Students who are supervised individually receive an hour of supervision for each hour of therapy provided. Students who are supervised in a group format (three to four students per group) receive a half-hour of supervision for every hour of therapy provided.

“That’s about as intensive as you can get,” Lubuguin says.

He says one of the strengths of the program is its promotion of diversity. Students are trained to be sensitive and responsive to the differences in backgrounds and worldviews of clients, he says.

Keren Sofer, a graduate student pursuing a doctorate in psychology, has worked as a student therapist and clinic assistant in the center for a year and a half. She started out seeing one client per week the first year. Now, she’s up to two to three per week.

Sofer says the clinic follows a community mental health model by offering a sliding fee scale, offering psychological assessments and serving diverse clients. Clients include children, teens, adults, couples, parents and families. 

Sofer hopes to work in private practice and a community mental health center after graduation, and she believes the experience she’s gaining will help her achieve her goals.

“One of the most challenging things is getting clients to be motivated to do therapy — making a connection quickly so the client feels open to change. That skill is transferable to any mental health facility,” Sofer says.

For Sofer, another benefit is being able to tap into the resources of the array of community supervisors who give their time and expertise to build up a new generation of clinicians.

“It’s a huge exposure to what the field has to offer,” she says.

The University also offers counseling through the DU Health and Counseling Center, which provides professional counseling services to currently enrolled DU students as well as DU faculty and staff.

“The DU Health and Counseling Center does not have strict session limits. The number of counseling sessions necessary is determined based on individual client needs,” says Health Promotion Coordinator Katie Dunker, noting that many university counseling centers throughout the U.S. restrict students to a set number of visits.

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