New low-cost trauma clinic to open Thursday in Berkeley

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The Bay Area Trauma Recovery Clinic will open its doors in Berkeley on Thursday to individuals suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and other forms of trauma.

The low-cost clinic, which charges $15 to $80 per session depending on income, is the latest addition to the East Bay’s limited selection of affordable psychological health resources.

“We have a huge amount of experience with trauma and we just wanted to take that experience and make it available to people who don’t have the resources to pay $300 an hour for therapy,” said Matthew McKay, a clinical director of the Bay Area Trauma Recovery Clinic and a psychology professor at the Wright Institute in Berkeley. “The idea was to make a clinic for people who couldn’t get help otherwise.”

The clinic offers low-cost individual and group sessions led by specially trained graduate students from the Wright Institute who are supervised by licensed practitioners. These graduate students are recruited by McKay and provide counseling services in exchange for training, which helps the clinic to operate with very little overhead cost.

McKay — who founded the Bay Area Trauma Recovery Clinic along with co-director Robyn Walser —  reached out to local therapists and the Berkeley Free Clinic as well as UC Berkeley counseling and health services so that those facilities can now refer trauma patients to the clinic. The Berkeley Free Clinic and other low-cost health resources in the Bay Area do not offer the same trauma-specific treatment as the new clinic.

According to Cameron Niven, funding coordinator for the Berkeley Free Clinic, volunteer peer-to-peer counselors are not professionals and are not trained to treat trauma or PTSD. Although they cannot offer advice, provide treatment or make diagnoses, Niven said if an individual cited trauma-related issues the clinic would help find them a low-cost referral.

According to Timothy Burroughs, assistant to the Berkeley city manager, Berkeley provides mental health services to adults, children and families without medical insurance who are Berkeley residents or identify as homeless. These services include psychological assessment, counseling and psychiatric consultation, but not trauma treatment.

UC Berkeley also provides counseling services to students on campus through University Health Services and Confidential Care Advocacy Office. Selina Lao, the ASUC Student Advocate, noted that the school’s limited counseling sessions might discourage trauma and sexual assault survivors from beginning treatment.

“Having five sessions and having to cut it off might be discouraging … it could be a turnoff for some people,” she said.

McKay echoed Lao’s concern, adding that the school’s limited sessions per student are often not enough to effectively treat trauma.

“We felt at this point in our lives we just wanted to do something that could make a difference and create a resource that people don’t have,” McKay said.

Contact Maya Eliahou at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @MayaEliahou.