For 20 Years, Delivering Therapy in Exchange for Doing Good


From the Hartford Courant: “Twenty years ago, Richard Shulman was volunteering as a member of the institutional review board at Hartford Hospital’s Institute of Living, where most of the clients were poor and/or uninsured. As a licensed psychologist, he’d been on staff, and plenty about the mental health care system bothered him.

Recent studies say people who need the care the most often aren’t getting it—and people who have the money to seek treatment often get too much treatment in the form of medication . . .

Meanwhile, what is supposed to be confidential information shared between medical professional and client becomes, because of the way insurance works, a written record of a person’s most private moments . . .

Plus, a psychiatric label — required by insurance — can have a profound effect.

Shulman found himself meeting colleagues on weekends and discussing a health care system that seemed to ignore what was best for its clients. Clients often have a sense if there are things in their life that have hurt them or influenced their perspectives. Increasingly, said Shulman, ‘mental health programs don’t focus on the poetic or thematic ways in which people express things that are difficult for them to talk about.’

‘We had a strong fire in our belly to break away from what we saw as problematic things,’ said Shulman.

So Shulman, with the collaboration of two clinical psychologists, started Volunteers in Psychotherapy, a West Hartford-based non-profit that allows people to get absolutely private therapy in exchange for volunteering at an organization of their choice. Four hours of volunteering buys one session.

The group has been featured in the national media, other communities have called to see how to replicate the program, and VIP just celebrated its 20th anniversary.

‘We really staked out a very different stance on therapy,’ said Shulman. ‘This is voluntary, they can fire us, and they stay only if they find it of benefit to them.'”

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