Frequently Asked Questions
What is Volunteers in Psychotherapy (VIP)?VIP is an IRS-approved, community nonprofit organization that provides one charitable service: access to private psychotherapy – almost always for no fee. Clients “pay for” their therapy by doing independent volunteer work for a charity, nonprofit or government program. VIP provides access to psychotherapy regardless of someone’s ability to pay or insurance coverage. An alternative to insurance-covered psychotherapy, and problems encountered at public clinics, VIP preserves people’s privacy to the maximum extent permitted by Connecticut State Law.
What services does VIP provide?VIP offers access to private “talk” psychotherapy only, with no other therapist involvement in clients’ lives and no involvement of third parties. We don’t speak to others about VIP clients, and won’t provide reports or evaluations to third parties such as lawyers, courts, police, or employers. We maintain this framework so that our clients can honestly discuss and explore difficult and sensitive personal or family matters knowing that their privacy will be maintained.
VIP provides access to licensed psychotherapists who try to help clients understand complications, confusions and problems in their lives, as they get to know them. Clients maintain their independence, maintain control of their lives and remain responsible for their decisions and actions – like any other person. Though we have worked with people who are in difficult circumstances, we are not an emergency service. Psychotherapists associated with VIP do not promise to be available outside of regularly scheduled therapy appointments.
What about Couples or Family therapy?People may choose family or marital therapy to address problems they believe involve family members. This approach requires the voluntary participation of other family members. If people meet conjointly in family or couples sessions, then all adults attending sessions can contribute to the volunteer work which earns those sessions.
How long can therapy through VIP continue?VIP’s aim is that clients may stay in psychotherapy through VIP for as long as they find it useful. (A Consumer Reports study found that people tend to value their therapy increasingly as they work with therapists over a reasonable period of time so they can explore difficult topics thoroughly and thoughtfully.) However, VIP cannot absolutely guarantee this offer because access to psychotherapy through VIP is dependent on funding (donations and grants) we raise in order to underwrite VIP’s service. (Our major expense is the moderate fees we pay participating psychotherapists.) However, please note that VIP has successfully provided its service for over thirteen years now, uninterrupted.
What does it mean to “pay for” psychotherapy by doing volunteer work?Clients choose a charitable organization using VIP guidelines. VIP accepts documented volunteer work in service to others as payment for therapy. This work must be done through an IRS-approved charity or nonprofit organization, or a government program.
Why do volunteer work?In order to receive psychotherapy, a VIP client must do volunteer work. VIP asks for an exchange in which clients get something (their therapy) in exchange for giving something (their charitable service to others). Someone may not have money to pay for therapy, but it is the rare person who cannot do some sort of volunteer work to help others. VIP reinforces its clients’ roles as contributing members of a community who have something of value to offer to others in exchange for their therapy. This exchange arrangement can foster a more realistic and meaningful therapy relationship, since clients are receiving therapy in exchange for their good work helping others. VIP’s approach encourages fair exchange in which everyone sacrifices a bit, contributing to the common good. Volunteers often feel better about themselves after experiencing their value to others, as they join with other people to do constructive work in their community. In the course of their therapy, clients may change the type of volunteer work they do or the charitable organization they work for, provided VIP guidelines are met.
Can a client pay a partial fee and do less volunteer work?Yes. Volunteer work is a way to contribute to the community and to therapy. However, a client may choose to pay for part of their therapy if that arrangement suits their circumstances. Currently people have four choices they can always choose from, to earn each session: 1) Do 4 hours of volunteer work, 2) combine 3 hours of volunteer work with a $15 payment to VIP, 3) combine 2 hours of volunteer work with a $30 payment to VIP, or 4) combine 1 hour of volunteer work with a $45 payment to VIP. We don’t pressure people toward a payment option. In over 13 years of service, VIP’s clients have chosen to pay nothing (and have earned their sessions strictly through volunteer work) in over 95% of their sessions.
What are VIP’s guidelines for volunteer work that qualifies as payment for psychotherapy?The volunteer work must be in service to others. VIP clients are encouraged to make certain that their chosen activity qualifies before beginning volunteer work by discussing their choices with Dr. Richard Shulman, VIP’s Director at VIP’s office in West Hartford. The phone number is (860) 233-5115.
Three types of organizations usually meet VIP’s guidelines:
The purpose of the nonprofit organization must be service to others, not any other purpose – however worthy. The organization must not engage directly or indirectly in political or religious advocacy, provide services designed to advance a particular political or religious position, nor benefit only one particular political or religious group or members of such a group. (Clients should feel free to support religious and political organizations they care about, but this is not the sort of volunteering that VIP accepts as payment for psychotherapy.)
What are some examples of organizations or activities that meet VIP’s guidelines?Public libraries and schools, town senior centers, hospices, hospitals, shelters for homeless people or battered women, nonprofit nursing homes, volunteer ambulance or fire corps, thrift shops, soup kitchens, food pantries, literacy and tutoring programs, environmental organizations and animal shelters usually meet VIP’s guidelines. A non-partisan organization, such as League of Women Voters, that educates and informs may qualify provided it is not part of another partisan or advocacy organization.
What are some other ways to get volunteer credit (extra credit and back credit)?VIP grants extra credit for certain bodily/physical donations: donating blood, platelets or plasma through the Red Cross, bone marrow donations, donations of hair through Locks of Love (an organization which makes wigs for children who have lost their hair due to cancer or other medical treatment).
VIP will also potentially grant new VIP clients some back credit (up to 16 hours) for documented volunteer work that was already done in the 2 months before a client first calls us.
What are some examples of organizations or activities that do not meet VIP’s guidelines?A nonprofit organization engaged in legislative or political advocacy does not meet VIP’s guidelines. Volunteering with a political or religious organization does not qualify if the benefit of the work is limited to members of the organization or involves direct or indirect advocacy or proselytizing. Activities such as teaching Sunday school, singing in a church choir, performing administrative work, etc. for a religious or political organization do not qualify. Volunteering for an agency where a client is employed in any way, or from which a client receives services themselves, does not qualify. Mandated or court-ordered community service does not qualify with VIP. Activities performed as part of required educational training (internships or field placements) do not qualify. Some types of volunteering with arts organizations may not qualify as service to others.
Are there any other volunteering guidelines?Decisions are made by VIP on the basis of the full context of the nature of the volunteering and the organization involved, the volunteer’s relationship to that organization, etc. We strongly encourage prospective clients to check with us before volunteering their time for any particular organization. Please make sure that VIP would give you credit for that volunteering first, so that you don’t end up doing volunteer work in a situation for which we couldn’t give you credit.
Will the agency where volunteer work is done know about the client’s involvement with VIP?No. VIP clients arrange volunteer work themselves, independently. This helps to maintain the VIP client’s privacy regarding their participation in therapy through VIP. Volunteer organizations don’t need to know that a volunteer is connected with VIP. There is no need for the volunteer organization to be in touch with VIP, nor to write to us.
How is volunteer work documented?Clients just obtain from the organization written documentation stating the specific number hours they worked, and the date when the work was done. The document should be addressed to the client, not to VIP. Clients could ask a person who supervises their volunteer work for a “thank you” letter (on organization letterhead) stating the number of hours volunteered on specific days, and then make a copy of it for VIP. Or, a client can submit a copy of their agency schedule, time log, sign-in sheet, etc. We will accept any document which clearly officially comes to the volunteer from the agency and contains two key bits of information: how long did the client work, and on what day. We will be a bit liberal about this: we’ve had people volunteer on a town committee, who then submit the official “Minutes” of the meeting, listing their attendance in a meeting, along with the officially recorded beginning and ending time of the meeting. Or, VIP clients have sometimes e-mailed their manager on a volunteer site. The VIP client may state something like, “Hello. You may remember me, Jane Doe. I’m the person who started volunteering on Saturday, January 2 for 4 hours, and then worked Tuesday, January 5 for an additional 4 hours. I just wanted to confirm that we’ll continue with that schedule.” If the agency manager replies, saying something like, “Sure, Jane. We appreciate the help you’re giving us and look forward to seeing you again on Saturday, Jan. 16.”… the VIP client can print out the entire e-mail exchange, which shows the agency’s confirmation of their statement of their donated hours. The e-mail exchange will also show that the return message is coming from the agency e-mail address. Submit a printed copy of this to VIP by postal mail and you’ve documented 8 hours of volunteering. Please note that our signed agreement with all VIP clients requires them to be honest in all representations of their volunteer hours. Clients agree to be financially responsible to VIP to repay the cost of all psychotherapy they receive, should there be any fraudulent representation of the hours they have volunteered.
How is documentation submitted to VIP?Please just mail a printed copy of your documentation to: VIP, 7 South Main Street, West Hartford, CT 06107. We don’t communicate with clients by e-mail, because of complications related to “protected health information.” When you mail in documentation of at least 4 hours of volunteer work to VIP (or a combination of payment to VIP, as per above), you will have earned your first session. Include a phone number where Dr. Shulman can reach you regarding scheduling. If you mail in more than 4 hours of documented work, you can bank the additional hours towards future VIP therapy sessions. VIP is an “earn as you go” system. You must always earn your sessions in advance. You can submit your documentation to your VIP therapist at sessions, or through postal mail. If you ever reach a position of not having sufficient documented hours to continue, you’ll just have to get in more documentation before restarting therapy sessions.
So…no insurance is needed or involved?Correct. VIP is designed to provide access to psychotherapy without the typical managed care insurance practices that compromise privacy. Psychotherapists associated with VIP do not send reports to insurance companies. No insurance company reviewer has access to information about a VIP client’s private therapy discussions. No reviewer will pressure a therapist to stop therapy or to encourage the use medication instead of providing talk therapy sessions. Also, no documentation of someone’s use of psychotherapy becomes available to employers. VIP offers an alternative to such problematic practices which have become part of insurance and managed care, and that also occur in public psychiatric clinics.
Who pays the therapists?VIP therapists agree to work for a fee that is significantly below the local average. For 8 years, therapists were paid $45 per session; now they receive $55. In this way, everyone sacrifices a bit and contributes to the common good of the community, so that VIP can function. As a nonprofit charitable organization, ruled tax-exempt by the Internal Revenue Service [EIN # 06-1532207], VIP receives tax-deductible donations from individuals as well as applying for grants from charitable foundations. These funds allow us to pay participating VIP psychotherapists.
Who set up VIP, and why?Psychotherapists have recognized for years that managed care practices compromise the privacy and control of people who seek psychotherapy. People just can’t explore difficult, sensitive personal and family matters when privacy is not maintained. Some psychotherapists have stopped working with insurance companies for this reason. They work only with clients who pay them directly. VIP is designed to make therapy available to individuals who want psychotherapy and may not be able to afford it – or who are concerned about the limitations and intrusions of their insurance. Similarly, many people have been unable to secure truly private psychotherapy through public clinics, which increasingly conceptualize people’s problems as medical disorders (without empirical or scientific substantiation of this view), and focus on medical interventions rather than therapy discussions.
Dr. Richard Shulman, a licensed clinical psychologist, left his work at Hartford Hospital’s Institute of Living in order to design and implement Volunteers in Psychotherapy. His goal was to offer a positive alternative to managed care’s rationing of psychotherapy, its overemphasis on pills, and its invasion of privacy – as well as similar problems experienced at public clinics. In discussions over several years, he developed VIP together with licensed psychologists, Dr. Mark Burrell and Dr. Karen D’Avanzo, who have worked at Yale University, the University of Connecticut Health Center, the New School for Social Research and other prominent hospitals and universities. VIP has benefited from the participation of other academic and licensed clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses, educational psychologists, psychiatric social workers, licensed professional counselors –through both provision of psychotherapy, and in oversight of VIP’s program on our Board of Directors. VIP’s Board of Directors and Advisory Board have also benefited from the input of ex-psychiatric patients, lawyers, nonprofit specialists, a superintendent of schools, professionals who support VIP’s program because of its emphasis on personal privacy, and a former Director of the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union who supports VIP because of its maintenance of personal control and privacy.
For more information, call Dr. Shulman in VIP’s office [7 South Main Street, West Hartford, CT 06107] at (860) 233-5115.