Treating Birmingham residents for a decade: UAB Community Counseling Clinic turns 10

UAB’s Community Counseling Clinic celebrates 10 years of providing affordable counseling to Jefferson County and Greater Birmingham residents.
Written by: Tehreem Khan
Media contact: Savannah Koplon

School of Education Community Counseling Clinic. Interior of the waiting room, October 2021.UAB’s Community Counseling Clinic celebrates 10 years of providing affordable counseling to Jefferson County and Greater Birmingham residents.
Photography: Steve Wood
The University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Education’s Community Counseling Clinic reached a pivotal milestone in 2021: celebrating 10 years of providing affordable counseling services to the residents of Jefferson County and beyond.

The Community Counseling Clinic, based in the Department of Human Studies, offers low-cost counseling services to the public by well-trained graduate students, supervised by experienced faculty members to serve the economically challenged and underserved communities. The Community Counseling Clinic at UAB aims to continue increasing access to outpatient mental health counseling services in Jefferson County and continue providing an innovative educational experience for UAB graduate counseling students.

When the clinic was founded to fill needs recognized in the community, the leading goal was to provide collaborative, goal-oriented and personalized services for each client.

“We wanted the clinic to make a positive impact on the community through the delivery of high-quality, safe and affordable counseling,” said Sean Hall, former director of the clinic. “We relied on this vision to drive every decision we made.”

Evolution of the Community Counseling Clinic

The success of the Community Counseling Clinic is a testament to the evolving needs of the community and trainees. The clinic is known for its caring, responsive and supportive services delivered by counselors who are sensitive to a diverse clientele and committed to professional excellence and ethical conduct.

Since its inception in January 2011, the Community Counseling Clinic has served more than 1,700 different clients.

“When I reflect on how far the clinic has come, I think of how many people — including students and faculty — have contributed to helping it succeed,” Hall said. “Their dedication to the work and the relationships they build with the community ensure that the clinic will continue to be an important resource for those in need.”

More than anything, the Community Counseling Center is special as a dual-functioning counseling clinic and training facility. For patients, the dual status means clients get two practitioners for one, as each patient works with a trainee and their supervisor. In turn, functioning as a teaching center enables the faculty to review and assess client progress, monitor the need for medical services, and evaluate clinical interventions, which gives trainees real-world experience and continued mentorship as they move toward their career as a counselor.

“The UAB Community Counseling Clinic’s aims are twofold: to provide a high-quality clinical training experience for our counseling students, and to increase access to counseling services for the Greater Birmingham community,” said Shannon McCarthy, former interim director of the clinic and assistant professor in the Department of Human Studies.

The Community Counseling Clinic and its providers are proud to offer a place where families and patients can grow through all life stages, knowing they are cared for by exceptional providers using the latest technology and practice standards.

CC 10.3Play therapy allows children to express experiences through purposeful play with a therapist.
Photography: Steve Wood
Growing and adapting: the clinic’s next 10 years

While the Community Counseling Clinic has observed many societal changes over its 10-year growth, even a massive disruption like the COVID-19 pandemic could not stop the clinic from serving the community. They transitioned to providing counseling via telehealth appointments, conducting more than 2,600 counseling sessions via telehealth and documented 300 hours of faculty supervised Zoom sessions. During this time, 14 counseling students in the clinic participated in client care.

As another marker of its growth, the Community Counseling Clinic has moved into a new and larger facility that allows for more clinic space for individual, couples and family counseling. It also has a children’s playroom for youth and child therapy.

“The clinic has grown tremendously over the past 11 years. It began with four or five students who received hands-on training at the clinic, growing to allow for eight student-clinicians we have today,” McCarthy said.

According to McCarthy, the clinic aims to continue expanding its footprint and partnerships on campus and in the community.

“We would like to expand the additional training experiences for our students, as well as opportunities to present to schools and other community and campus organizations, and assist with mental health initiatives on campus and in the community,” she said. “We are working on continuing to expand the technological capabilities in the clinic, including expanded capabilities and integration with our Electronic Health Record system.”

In looking ahead at its growth over the next five years, the Community Counseling Clinic aims to bridge disparities in mental health access through its quality and affordable mental health care services, keeping its clients’ needs top-of-mind in all planning.

“Members in marginalized communities are at an increased risk for mental health problems; however, they experience more barriers than their counterparts to quality mental health services,” said Yusen Zhai, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Human Studies and director of the UAB Community Counseling Clinic. “Therefore, the clinic will continue developing outreach programs and honing multicultural and social justice counseling competencies of our counselors to provide marginalized populations with cultural sensitive counseling services, advocating social justice for marginalized populations.”

Zhai hopes that more UAB stakeholders are aware of the clinic so that it can expand services, providing more wellness-based programs to UAB students and beyond.

“I envision the clinic’s becoming a model for training clinics in the nation, given that the clinic is not only serving the UAB community but also providing services to a wealth of populations from local communities,” Zhai said. “I hope the clinic will continue to build good word-of-mouth partnerships with health providers so that individuals who need services can access our services through different channels.”

For more information about the Community Counseling Clinic, visit here.