Nonprofits provide free counseling to clients

Sun Sailor Newspapers
Kristina Busch
May 30, 2017

As May comes to an end, so does the 68th annual Mental Health Month. Mental Health America initiated the first observance of May as Mental Health Month in 1949. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 20 percent of adults in the U.S. will experience a mental health issue, like depression or anxiety, during their lifetime.

To assist those who suffer from mental health issues, WeCAN, a nonprofit social services organization, and ICA Food Shelf collaborated with Relate Counseling Center to offer free, walk-in counseling.
ICA Case Manager Jessie Billiet said this merger, which occurred more than a year ago, was initially funded through a grant from the Minnetonka Collaborative. She said there is a significant need for services for those with unresolved mental health issues.
“I think it’s very unique that we have this partnership,” she said. “I don’t how many other food shelves that have therapists coming in for free.”

Outpatient therapists from Relate assist the clients who approach them, Billiet said. There are no prior qualifications for the counseling, and ICA clients only need an appointment and a proof of address to access the food shelf. Clients who are homeless can show a form of ID to staff, she said.
“Because it’s a friendly space, [therapists] are here three to four days a week and people are used to seeing them,” Billiet said. “We hope our service is more approachable.”
One outpatient therapist comes to WeCAN weekly for about four hours, said Lisa Conway, Relate director of clinical services. At both ICA and WeCAN, the therapists give clients a brief consultation, which can lead to full length therapy sessions.

Aaron Rusnak, a Relate outpatient therapist for ICA, said therapy is helpful because it allows people to be vulnerable and to understand how to live life confidently.
“One of the biggest things that I see coming out of therapy is that people feel they are worth something and they’re not alone in the world,” he said. “There’s a sense of connection.”
Now, the counseling services are funded exclusively by Relate, Conway said. They are currently pursuing outside funding.
“We wanted to try and offer some sort of mental health service to people at ICA instead of having them try and come over to Relate,” Rusnak said. “We work with ICA case managers to determine what setup is the best [for the clients].”

At ICA, he noted, clients do not have to fill out paperwork like they would at Relate. But, at both locations, therapists assess the client to determine how counseling should go.
“Counseling is being a sounding board in some ways,” Rusnak said. “It’s creating a safe environment for people to process their own distress or their own issues.”
There are several clients who come in to the food shelf weekly to work with a therapist, Billiet said.
Rusnak said the stigma surrounding mental health and counseling dissipates when people realize everyone is dealing with their own issues and working to regulate their emotions and life.
“When we can be vulnerable, there’s a sense of connection,” he said.

He also said the response from staff and volunteers has been overwhelmingly positive because, rather than having to refer a client to Relate, there are therapists available on location.
“In that sense, it’s much easier to access,” Rusnak said. “I’ve had quite a few conversations with people who wouldn’t have even thought about going to Relate or meeting with a counselor.”

But Rusnak also said he wants ICA to train staff to notice mental health concerns in people. He said it is important to have this educational piece, as well as walk-in counseling, to ensure a comfortable environment for clients.
“For me, the basic need essentially that counseling meets is the ability to be heard and to feel accepted and [that] you’re in a safe place with somebody,” he said. “The relationship is key, that ability to feel that you are welcomed.”