Psychology Today

Volunteers in Psychotherapy in Psychology Today

Excerpts from December, 2001 Issue CASH, CHECK OR VOLUNTEER WORK:

A NEW WAY TO PAY FOR THERAPY

Psychotherapy patients in Hartford, Connecticut are participating in a national trial, but no new drugs or behavioral tactics are involved. At Volunteers in Psychotherapy (VIP), patients volunteer [several] hours at a local charity [of their choice] to earn one free hour of psychotherapy. VIP participants have volunteered at a homeless shelter, a food bank or the Red Cross. “It’s a way to tell clients, ‘You have something of value to offer the community,’” says Richard Shulman, Ph.D., the psychologist who founded the nonprofit organization in 1998 after growing increasingly frustrated with managed-care medicine.

The community work provides its own therapeutic benefits… “It gets them into situations where they are helping others and are being thanked and rewarded with the approval of coworkers,” Shulman explains…

Shulman has raised [money] from private donors and philanthropic organizations to fund VIP. He and four additional psychologists are paid…slightly less than half the going rate in Hartford. [All administrative and development work is donated, as are office space and phone.]

Last year, VIP was honored by the Connecticut Psychological Association, but the real gratification for Shulman is the chance to practice in an environment free from managed-care restrictions. Shulman cites clients’ concerns about confidentiality with HMOs as an incentive to participate in the program. Clients also realize that they can receive therapy for as long as they like.

“It feels like the right way to do therapy,” says Shulman. “Clients know that they have earned the right for the session to be absolutely private.”

- Robert Whitaker [Author of Mad In America and Anatomy of an Epidemic]