Life is hard, but for people who live or work in the Birmingham area, the UAB School of Education’s Community Counseling Clinic is here to help.

The clinic, now beginning its third year of operation, provides outpatient mental-health counseling to the community, while giving graduate students hands-on experience treating a wide range of mental-health needs. “A couple of years ago, we decided to expand the scope of the lab and turn it into a functioning clinic to provide this service to the community,” says Sean Hall, Ph.D., clinic director and an assistant professor in the Department of Human Studies. “The clinic is now an internship site for students, where they have the unique opportunity to have direct access to the faculty while providing care to clients who often wouldn’t have access to other types of mental health care in the area.”

A Comprehensive Approach

The Counselor Education Program (CEP), which has been training students at UAB for more than 40 years, has two specialty tracks—school counseling and clinical mental-health counseling. Prior to the creation of the Community Counseling Clinic, students were completing internships at various mental health settings in the surrounding community. And while many students still perform internships at off-campus sites, the clinic provides a unique level of supervision.

“The clinic is now an internship site for students, where they have the unique opportunity to have direct access to the faculty while providing care to clients who often wouldn’t have access to other types of mental health care in the area.”

“The students are the primary mental-health providers,” says Hall, “but the difference between this clinic and other internships is that our lab has recording equipment that allows us to document every aspect of these sessions.” As students conduct counseling sessions, faculty and other students are able to observe from another room, writing their observations and feedback. “Every session is taped, with the client’s permission,” Hall says, “and, like football coaches, we can then ‘break down the tapes,’ and review, either individually or with the class to examine the skills and techniques the students demonstrate in session. Every aspect is managed so that the students can get the most efficient and comprehensive training experience while still providing the highest level of care to the clients.”

An Important Alternative

While the training students receive is crucial to their education, Hall says the service provided to the community cannot be overstated. “Clients come to us if they are uninsured or if they have financial difficulties that prevent them from accessing other mental-health services,” Hall says. “We provide another option for them to get the support they need, whether they are dealing with mental-health issues or related substance-abuse problems, or just normal developmental difficulties, such as the loss of a loved one or adjusting to a job loss.” For more serious cases, Hall says the clinic will refer clients out to various hospitals or community partners.