Loyola mental health clinic seeks to fill gaps in local services by helping low-income clients

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By John Casey, jecasey@my.loyno.edu
Loyola Student News Service

Loyola Mental Health Clinic

John Dewell (left), the clinical director for the Loyola Center for Counseling and Education, delivers remarks at the clinic’s grand opening. Within five days of opening, the center was full. (John Casey, Loyola Student News Service)

A new counseling center aiming to provide mental health services to struggling members of the New Orleans community has opened on the Loyola University Uptown campus.

The Loyola Center for Counseling and Education opened in January, offering sliding-scale services to uninsured and underinsured New Orleanians.

via Loyno.edu

An official grand opening was held earlier this month. In attendance were many key individuals to the project, including Loyola University President Tania Tetlow and members of the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic.

Maroon and gold balloons lined the walls to the center entrance where a red ribbon was cut by Tetlow in celebration of the opening.

The center treats about 18 clients per week with one intern counselor on staff now, but Director of Program Development Sarah Zoghbi expects that capacity to significantly increase by mid-summer as the center adds four more intern counselors in May.
In addition to the individual clients, the center will be adding group sessions in the summer, which Zoghbi expects will add many more clients to the roster. While there are no plans for further expansion beyond that, she says that it possible that the center will add more clinicians in semesters after, depending on need and capacity.
“Our growth plan has much potential,” said Zoghbi.  “We are continuing to grow slow, steady and sustainably.”

Clients will see Loyola graduate student interns who are working toward the “final layer” of acquiring their provisional license and graduating. The interns are supervised by Loyola counseling faculty who are licensed clinical supervisors.

Graduate students will also have a chance to get more hands-on experience under the guidance of their instructors. “It’s a dual purpose, service to a community and the strengthening of practitioners,” Zoghbi said. Graduate students generally gain practical experience through internships in the community. The clinic allows them to stay at Loyola for that experience.

A graduate student counselor runs the visitor check-in for the Loyola Center for Counseling and Education’s grand opening on April 11.  (John Casey, Loyola Student News Service)

“I think having a counseling center at Loyola that’s accessible to people and a place that is very opening, culturally sensitive and low cost, I think it literally will save lives,” said Bethany Bultman, director of the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic. “That’s why I was so thrilled when I met Sarah (Zoghbi) and I said, ‘We’ve gotta have more mental health resources, and so why not instead of embedding your Loyola students in other clinics all over town that have their own rules and regulations about access, why don’t you do your own.’ I’m pretty excited that from that conversation to 11 months, suddenly there was clinic.”

The New Orleans community is particularly in need of this service, according to Zoghbi.

“In terms of mental health care accessibility, Louisiana ranks 45th out of 50 states — meaning we aren’t doing well. We have inaccessible care in our state,” said Zoghbi. “We knew by this number, this is needed. We knew anecdotally by treating people of the population that this is needed. People are having a hard time getting mental health care that they can afford.”

Nationally, 41 percent of people who are suffering from mental health issues are never going to receive proper treatment, according to 2014 study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources.

“There’s so few resources for people who are suffering in silence. We have a skyrocketing suicide rate in New Orleans,” Bultman said. “It’s horrible, and we’ve all, I don’t know about you but we lose people that we know and what does everybody say, ‘Oh my God like I had no idea.’”

The need for care was so great that within five days of public announcement of the center’s opening in January, it was full and rolling into a wait list. The clinic is now doing over-the-phone intakes until appointments become available, which it expects to happen within the next two to three weeks.

Despite the high demand, Zoghbi said the center will not be a wait-list clinic and is expanding capacity over the next few months, with the intention of seeing anyone who seeks its services no matter their financial situation.

“I would sit down with you if you were starting an individual therapy session and ask you, not what income bracket are you in or how much money do your parents make, but honestly and realistically what can you afford. Let’s set your price from day one,” said Zoghbi. “Can you afford the reduced rate, can you afford five dollars, can you not afford anything but you really need this? It’s OK, we’ll figure it out.”

Loyola University President Tania Tetlow, at the center in a white jacket, is joined by founding members of the center as the red ribbon is cut at Loyola’s Mercy Hall. (John Casey, Loyola Student News Service)

The ambitious mission of the center was the brainchild of Zoghbi and John Dewell, the clinical director of the clinic and a Loyola faculty member. Zoghbi, upon returning in 2017 from international studies in Germany, realized the crippled state of mental health care in New Orleans.

“I was honestly concerned with the quality of agencies, and I was concerned with access to care that I knew people didn’t have here,” said Zoghbi, “and thought maybe I could do something.”

That’s when she got with Bultman at the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic, who she said also shares the passion for treating creative people who often struggle with mental health. After putting their heads together, the clinic agreed to partner with Zogbhi.

Then there was the question of where to house the clinic. Zogbhi solved the problem quickly when she approached Dewell, who chairs the counseling department at Loyola.

“It just so happened, since being a graduate student in my position, that he had dreamed of opening a clinic here, and that he had been thinking about it and a way to start it. But there was just the missing component of how to actually get that work done. That’s where I came in,” Zoghbi said.

They then approached the university with the idea, and Zoghbi says they were “very agreeable and supportive.” In a short time, they were able to partner with the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic and the Preservation Hall Foundation to establish a concrete plan for getting the center started.

“This is what it means to lead a Catholic Jesuit university, this absolute devotion to social justice,” said Tania Tetlow, president of Loyola University, during her remarks at the center’s grand opening ceremony.

The Loyola Center for Counseling and Education offers phone consultations before booking an appointment. The center is open Monday through Thursday from 1 to 8 p.m.

Appointments can be made by emailing lcce@loyno.edu or by calling 504-864-7858.

The Loyola Student News Service features reporters from advanced-level journalism classes at Loyola University New Orleans, directed by faculty advisers.

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