Program making counseling affordable

Program making counseling affordable

CHAMPAIGN — Need mental health care, but can't afford it?

A local counseling service is offering some individual and group therapy sessions for children and adults at reduced rates.

The "Bridging the Gap" program started by Kevin Elliott Counseling Service in downtown Champaign is intended to serve people who need counseling but can't afford it — because they don't qualify for the state Medicaid program, don't have health insurance or have health coverage but can't afford their out-of-pocket costs.

The counseling service was already reducing its charge for self-pay clients who couldn't afford the full rate. But Kevin Elliott, therapist and president of the practice, said there continue to be people who need help and are falling through the cracks of the mental health system.

"We've always had a sliding scale, but it wasn't sliding as low as some people need it to," said Sandra Ahten, Elliott's wife and the counseling service's business manager.

She and Elliott say the practice Elliott started alone 11 years ago now employs more than 25 therapists, and that growth is now allowing them to offer more affordable counseling options to the community.

"Part of it is the business has done well, and we can do it," Elliott said. "I just like to find a way to say yes."

The new program will be open to children and adults with a family income of up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $28,875 for one person and $58,875 for a family of four.

All clients under the program will be served for eight to 12 weeks, with a re-evaluation of their needs done at the end of that time, Ahten said.

Sliding scale rates for this new program, dependent on income and family size, will range from $12 to $33 for individual sessions and $5 to $14 for group sessions, she said.

Counseling options, developed after consulting with Champaign County Health Care Consumers, include eight weekly individual therapy sessions for adults and teens with a variety of issues such as depression, anxiety, grief, trauma or chemical dependency and a 12-week Dialectical Behavior Therapy group program.

The Dialectical Behavior Therapy group program, starting in mid-May, will include both weekly private and group sessions for people who need help with such conditions as mood disorders, anxiety disorders, eating disorders or substance abuse.

Two options for children include individual play therapy for kids under age 10 and a social skills group for children ages 6 to 10 who need help with social skills and developing peer relationships, including children on the autism spectrum.

Elliott and Ahten say the program will work with some interns from University of Illinois and Eastern Illinois University. Graduate student counseling interns will provide some of the counseling under staff therapist supervision, Ahten said.

Peter Tracy, executive director of the Champaign County Mental Health Board, said there are about 10,000 people in Champaign County with diagnosable mental health issues, and that number excludes people with substance abuse problems or developmental disabilities.

Many of those needing help don't get it or even seek help, oftentimes due to cost and coverage issues, he said.

Under changes being rolled out under the Affordable Care Act, nearly everyone who is currently uninsured will be newly covered next year through a Medicaid expansion or one of the new health plans to be available through a new state insurance marketplace.

But mental health coverage under expanded Medicaid and marketplace health plans hasn't yet been well-defined, Tracy said.

Elliott said his agency plans to continue extending counseling service under the new reduced rate program, even as more people gain access to insurance coverage, because people will continue to contend with financial hardship.

"Really, it's for people who have financial hardship," he said.

Registration for the new counseling program is open now and will continue through May 15 or until it's filled.

For more information: Call 398-9066, or visit

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