Victoria Brewster, MSW

Victoria Brewster, MSW

Social Justice Solutions | Staff Writer
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Interview with Paul Fugelsang, MA, LPC: Open Path Founder

SJS shared in May, that a not-for-profit mental health network has been created by Open Path Psychotherapy Collective, an organization that aims to keep mental health care affordable, especially for those that fall into the middle income range. Below is an interview with the founder of Open Path, Paul Fugelsang, MA, LPC.

How did you become involved with the field of mental health?

As a young adult, I was drawn to working empathically and creatively with other people, and so I pursued social service jobs in my twenties. I realized that I wanted to continue this kind of work, but that there was something missing. While I wasn’t sure what this “something” was, I did realize on some level that I wanted deeper, more sophisticated training. When I found the Contemplative Psychotherapy program at Naropa University, something clicked and the training ended up providing me with what I felt was lacking in my previous work.

What inspired you to conceptualize the idea of Open Path?

During my graduate training at Naropa, I interned at a local mental health nonprofit in Boulder, CO. It was a wonderful organization comprised mostly of student interns. While a lot of good work was done at this center, I became acutely aware that: 1) low income counseling was provided almost exclusively by student interns (who, and I include myself in this, were fresh, energetic, and had many mistakes to make) and 2) huge amounts of physical and emotional energy in the organization was spent in working to procure funding for rent, leaky pipes, and worn-down furniture. The nonprofit eventually could not sustain its funding needs and closed its doors a few years ago. The experience was an introduction to economic injustice in our country’s mental health world.

This is to say, I don’t think I conceived Open Path consciously at first. But I did begin to see, over the years, that the Internet was presenting a whole new model for people seeking help and for clinicians wanting to give it. Twenty years ago this sort of thing was not possible. Now we can have a nationwide community health center, where the website serves as a reception room where middle income clients can be directed and direct themselves toward a therapist.

Another realization I’ve had in my years practicing as a therapist is that services often exist for lower income individuals and families. Higher income brackets can afford quality mental health care, but so often there is nothing for the majority of us who live somewhere in the middle–for the single person with no dependents who makes $35,000 a year, for example. This person doesn’t qualify for government services, and they certainly can’t afford $100 a session for weekly private therapy. Open Path wants to reach these individuals.

Another vital part of Open Path is its mission to support therapists. Therapists acting altruistically to offer lower fee sessions don’t usually receive monetary benefits (like discounts on continuing education credits or on tax preparation services) to support and sustain their private practices. While it’s Open Path’s main intent to help as many middle income clients receive therapy as possible, we also aim to support therapists in their private practices.

How can one become a member of Open Path as a professional therapist or as a client?

Becoming a member is quite easy for each. A therapist can fill out an online application here, and clients can fill one out here. Open Path clients receive a per-session rate of $30-$50 per session (they work out the fee in this range with their therapist; Open Path doesn’t have any part of the client/therapist relationship after the initial match is made), and anyone interested in applying to become a client can first search for a therapist by their zip code on the site.

To become an Open Path therapist, one must have finished graduate training in psychology, social work, or some other related field, and be licensed or provisionally licensed. If the therapist is practicing in a place where no license is needed (pre-licensed/license eligible/registered intern), then all we need to see is some proof of this, and a copy of the clinician’s liability insurance. There is no fee at all to the member therapist, and there is a $100 one-time fee for the client to become a member. We are in the process of establishing a financial assistance fund to help clients with this initial fee. (If you would like to donate to that fund, you can do so here.)

You are the founder of Open Path, but are you also a therapist that provides services for a reduced fee?

I think it’s safe to say that the overwhelming majority of therapists in private practice see people at reduced fees, myself included. On too many occasions I’ve been through the awful scenario of needing to turn someone away who can only afford between $30 and $50 a session. More often than not in these situations I have been unable to give them a quality referral based on how much the client is able to spend.  In creating Open Path it’s my hope that we can provide an incredibly useful referral service for therapists who cannot afford to take on new lower fee paying clients. With Open Path we’re creating a nationwide referral option for these therapists so that clients can get the help that they need.

The goal or end result of Open Path?

Mental health care is expensive and we’d like to reach the 45% of the 40 million+ in this country who are not getting mental health care because they are not able to afford it. We are not going to be able to help all, but we do intend to do our part in facilitating services for as many as possible. Many therapists lower their fees already for some clients, but most don’t lower them this low or advertise their offerings–Open Path will give some visibility and support to those who will do this. Ultimately it is a place where middle income individuals, couples, children, and families can find extremely affordable psychotherapy rates. The goal is to reach them.

Discuss the growth of Open Path and any other information you feel might be relevant

At this time, 150 therapists throughout the nation have become Open Path clinicians and more are signing on each day. The interest and support from clinicians has been astonishing. Our attention now is getting the word out to clients–those millions of people who are out there, need mental health care, and have no idea that we exist. Many of our therapists see clients not only in their offices, but also online, and they indicate this in their profile pages. So we’re trying to reach out to clients in the areas where our therapists practice, but we also hope that some clients will be open to searching for a therapist with whom they can work through online counseling.

Thank you Paul for  agreeing to this interview. Kudos to all the therapists/clinicians who have chosen to be a part of Open Path and help make mental health care affordable to those that fall within the middle income range. It seems every day I am reading about cutbacks and reduced funding to agencies and organizations that provide mental health care services. Here is an example of a solution. A ripple in the pond is better than no movement at all.

Written by Victoria Brewster, MSW
SJS Staff Writer

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