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Kaleidoscope Counseling wants to remap Mental Healthcare in the face of COVID-19

Updated: Mar 31


AUSTIN, TX, March 31, 2020— In the wake of the COVID-19 public health crisis, mental health professionals across the country are working against the clock to provide support and treatment for their existing clients. The widespread and harmful effects of isolation and stress have put those who are already struggling at greater risk, along with many others who may now need therapy for the first time. Seen by some as a luxury, therapy has become a necessity for many residents practicing social distancing.

Photo by Pedro Serrano

Kaleidoscope, a relative newcomer to Austin’s mental health community, has been providing services in Austin since February 2019. While it has found a new sense of purpose surrounding the COVID-19 response, its focus on serving the community is longstanding. Kaleidoscope inherited the mission of it’s non-profit predecessor C2Change, to improve the quality and accessibility of mental health services in Austin by training their own therapists and having them provide low cost appointments to patients who otherwise could not afford it.

Clinical Director Dr. Allison Sallee, PhD, LP, LMFT-S says, “I’ve been doing this for 20 years. Places that provide high quality, low cost mental healthcare and don’t have six month wait-lists aren’t just rare in our community ‒ they’re non-existent. We’re proud to be a training facility. It’s why we can afford to offer fees 80% less than the going rate. In my experience, the therapists-in-training I’ve selected have more to give, more passion, because they’re fresh, they’re not burned out.”

Structural problems still stand in the way for people seeking treatment. The biggest is cost ‒ when professionals are in short supply, prices rise. Texas is currently ranked 49th in the country for mental healthcare providers per capita (United Health Foundation). In Austin, even with rising costs, the spike in demand means individual providers are beginning to reach capacity.

“Since shelter-in-place was announced, whenever I get a call for referrals, their first question is, ‘Are you taking new clients?’ Their second question is usually, ‘Do you offer reduced fees?’ There’s a lot of people in need out there,” says Evan Smith, Intake Specialist at Kaleidoscope.

If COVID-19 has brought to light cracks in a system, it is nothing new for chronically under-served populations. Now that quality care could become inaccessible to a large share of the population, Director of Operations Amanda Smith, MA, LPC-S believes the crisis is also an opportunity to do more for everyone who suffers from mental illness or psychological distress.

“When this crisis is over, we don’t want to go back to the way things were. This has been a proving ground for ideas we’ve been working on since the beginning ‒ remote and hybrid counseling for people who can’t always come to us, cloud-based administration and supervision, and direct engagement with communities by our therapists. We’re a therapy practice that thinks like a start-up. I hope others copy us. I think mental healthcare needs disruption. We will never stop delivering compassionate, intelligent care to those who can afford the going rate, but we want the same for those people who have given up looking because it’s too hard.”

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