CPS Responds to COVID-19

Now more than ever, accessible mental health services are critical. And the George Mason University Center for Psychological Services (GMUCPS) is working hard, and creatively, to make sure accessible, affordable psychological services are available for all of Northern Virginia.  

The Center offers a number of different mental health services to the community, all while providing on-site training and clinical experience to graduate students in Mason's clinical, counseling and school psychology programs. Most of their clientele is from the external community, serving veteran and low-income populations. 

For many in these communities, cost is the primary barrier to accessing mental health support. The goal of the Center is to provide critical mental health resources and psychological testing to individuals in need, regardless of ability to pay. Thus, they offer services at less than half the standard rate, and reduce those costs further for those who qualify.  

While this is a typical practice for training clinics, the Center is one of the only clinics on the East Coast with that option, causing sliding-scale eligible clients to often be waitlisted. And although the community’s needs have always been greater than the resources the Center can provide, progress was being made.  A successful fundraising event in early March raised over $62,000.  “We are largely a self-sustaining entity, and it was this concern that led us to fundraising,” Dr. Robyn Mehlenbeck, Director of the GMU Center for Psychological Services, explained. “It was unacceptable to me and to our mission that people who couldn’t afford services were waiting longer than others.”  

But then the COVID-19 crisis struck. Increased unemployment, financial uncertainty, and mental health concerns have caused the sliding scale needs to grow. “We’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg regarding the mental health needs of our communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for front-line and essential employees,” Dr. Mehlenbeck, said. And according to the Washington Post, “federal agencies and experts warn that a historic wave of mental-health problems is approaching."  

Dr. Mehlenbeck and her team are thinking of creative ways of reaching the community. They’re offering $5 sessions for those who demonstrate financial need. Advanced doctoral student trainees are also organizing and hosting a 6-part community workshop series. These workshops, which cover topics such as managing anxiety and staying healthy during quarantine, are free to the public and recordings are now available online.  

“I think the trainees often get overlooked, but there is a tremendous amount of work done by them at the Center,” Dr. Mehlenbeck said. “All of our faculty supervisors work tremendously hard to ensure our trainees are okay, making sure that they’re maintaining their own mental health and are coping with these transitions and with the issues coming up from their clients during their sessions. And we’ve reframed this as an opportunity that few graduate students get to be properly trained in and to practice teletherapy.” From March 8 through May 10, the Center saw 96 individual clients via telehealth, and conducted 431 telehealth sessions.  

While the Center can perform some of its services online, there are some critical services that cannot be offered virtually as they require specific applications and tools, which the Center does not currently have, or must be done in person. Psychoeducational testing—cognitive, educational and psychological tests that help figure out strengths and weaknesses, as well as if there is a diagnosis that can interfere with school or work (like ADHD or Learning Disabilities)—is one example and is also a key source of funding for the Center.  

Further, Dr. Mehlenbeck wants to create targeted services for essential workers, front-line healthcare workers, and families directly affected by COVID-19. Those populations are at higher risk for PTSD and mental illness, and the Center is, “trying to do everything we can to help mitigate those cases with preemptive intervention and therapy...we’re hoping to be able to develop a support hotline, or to give those affected a certain number of free sessions.”  

This is where the general public can make a huge impact by giving. Move for Mental Health, the Center’s fundraising challenge, will help support the services the Center hopes to implement for COVID-19 healthcare workers, essential employees and affected families, as well as support taking more of their testing online.  

As for the Center’s future, Dr. Mehlenbeck hopes to continue the Center’s important mission. “My hope for the future of the Center is that we are seen within the entire Northern Viriginia community as the place for accessible, affordable, and state of the art mental health care. And that we have the ability to meet the needs we know are there.” 

Learn more about the CPS’s Move for Mental Health campaign or make a contribution on our giving page.