Counseling. Say the word to anyone, and pop-culture stereotypes abound. The Freudian therapist. The clingy client. The exorbitant fees. Many think counseling is a waste of time — or only for people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
Master of Arts in Counseling student Riley Hall disagrees. “The needs people bring to counseling take on many forms,” he says. “Compare it to physical illness. Sometimes you get a cut on your finger that takes a few days to heal. But other times you might have a more serious issue that can cause harm if not treated. It’s the same with counseling.”
Hall is an intern at MU’s newly opened Community Counseling Center. Sandwiched between Sutcliffe Hall and Montavilla Park, the center meets two vital needs: training MAC interns and serving local community members with low-cost therapy.
Counseling Center Coordinator Chris Cleaver helped his interns develop a sliding scale that charges session fees based on clients’ household incomes. Cleaver says the scale makes counseling affordable for people who might not otherwise be able to pay for therapy. “I see this center as a gateway to our community,” he says. “Our interns have great training, and we’re passionate about serving people.”
The best way to serve, says Hall, is by building strong relationships with clients. “You don’t get nearer to someone’s heart than in a counseling room,” he says. “We’re here to provide a nonjudgmental ear and a place for them to give voice to their sorrows.”
Fellow intern Chelsea Thurlow agrees. “Unfortunately, it can be rare to have a relationship in which you feel heard without being judged,” she says. “Counseling is a safe relationship focused on you. It gives you accountability to set goals. It’s also helpful to talk with someone who’s not personally involved in your situation.”
Although Multnomah is a biblical university, the counseling center doesn’t cater to Christians exclusively. “We are still under the counseling code of ethics, which means we will never impose our beliefs on clients,” says Thurlow. “We’re not the authority in their life. Their values will be the weight in the room.”
Approaching counseling can seem defeating or embarrassing to some, but Thurlow feels honored to walk with people through their troubles. “I find joy in empowering them to take steps toward the changes they desire,” she says.
Hall concurs. “When left in the dark, issues can destroy someone’s life,” he says. “Counseling works because relationships are healing. It gives people their lives back.”