A boost for local counseling

Painting an inside room a more lively color is Mariana Paredes, left, a therapist at CCC, and Ann Clements, an administrative assistant.
Painting an inside room a more lively color is Mariana Paredes, left, a therapist at CCC, and Ann Clements, an administrative assistant.

A collaborative project between the Community Counseling Center of San Luis Obispo County and Transitions Mental Health Association will provide free counseling and therapy to people living with severe mental illness in San Luis Obispo and Arroyo Grande.

Therapists will be available to assist clients at two wellness centers run by Transitions Mental Health in those cities.

Until now counseling wasn’t offered among the other programs offered at the centers, such as peer and support groups, and job and housing assistance.

The pilot project, called Lift Now, is being funded by a $5,000 preventative health grant from the San Luis Obispo County Community Foundation.

“At the wellness centers there are a lot of individuals diagnosed with mental illness,” said James Statler, executive director of the Community Counseling Center. With the new counseling service, the center will be better able to help clients realize “the potential for individuals diagnosed with mental illness to live healthier lives.”

An equally important part of the new program is the intent to reduce the stigma often attached to mental illness.

The first event to foster that principle was held Saturday as therapists and mental health workers worked alongside clients to beautify the outdoor and indoor areas at the Community Counseling Center’s main office in downtown San Luis Obispo.

Among those helping were youth from Atascadero High School who are participating in a new project there by launching their own wellness center on campus for peers.

That project, funded by the Mental Health Services Act and administered by the San Luis Obispo County Mental Health, will introduce students to people working in therapy as a career path and also train them to assist their peers.

Cami Rouse, coordinator of the high school wellness center, said 25 students are participating in the program this year. The intent of that program is also to launch campaigns on campus to reduce the stigma attached to mental illness.

Statler said Saturday’s event was meant to introduce the community to what is being done to fill the gaps in the mental health system.

“You hear so many stories about the downfall of mental health services,” Statler said. “This is a project that will keep people in recovery. Clearly mental illness is viewed a lot differently than a physical ailment. We are trying to say that wellness includes mental health, and we are asking people to reach out and say I need help and we will be there to do that.”

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.