MHCD, now WellPower, offering free online counseling

David Heitz

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By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver

(Denver, Colo.) Mental Health Center of Denver has a new name and a new service for people needing emergency counseling. The organization has rebranded as WellPower and is offering free online therapy sessions called TherapyDirect.

TherapyDirect launched for everyone 18 and older on May 16. A counselor or peer specialist provides 55-minute online sessions on-demand even to people who don’t have insurance.

Clients may access TherapyDirect up to three times per year. The counselors offer connections to resources. Patients must be at least 18.

Help when it’s needed

We know that people typically seek counseling when they need the extra support, not days or even weeks before needing support, so that by the time a future scheduled appointment happens, their needs might look very different, or they might not even attend,” said Cari Ladd, WellPower program manager and licensed clinical social worker.

Ladd said the mental health system can be complicated. The TherapyDirect counselors and peer specialists help people navigate treatment options to find long-term help.

Striking while the iron is hot

Ladd said sometimes people change their minds about therapy after making an appointment. Offering services on-demand brings them in when the motivation for treatment is the highest.

“Being on demand really allows us as providers to meet someone where they’re at emotionally and offer short-term support in the moment. This short-term support may be all someone needs to manage their stressor effectively, or if longer-term support is what’s really needed, TherapyDirect can serve as a bridge until that support is in place.”

The program is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a federal agency.

Program partners with STAR, The Gathering Place

Since March, TherapyDirect has operated as a pilot program. WellPower partnered with The Gathering Place, STAR, and the WellPower walk-in crisis center in Denver. These organizations mostly help people experiencing homelessness.

STAR is one of the city’s alternatives to policing programs. When someone calls 911 reporting a person in duress but not breaking a law, a dispatcher can send a paramedic and mental health professional. The pilot program recently expanded citywide.

The Gathering Place is a day shelter for people experiencing homelessness. It offers many services.

Staff still being hired

WellPower is hiring more staff for the program. Currently, staff includes two intake coordinators (bilingual English/Spanish), two licensed therapists, and one full time multi-lingual (English, Spanish, and French) peer specialist. There also is a part-time peer specialist. “We are working on hiring two additional therapists to round out our clinical team,” Ladd said.

WellPower has placed computer kiosks at its locations so people without internet access can get online for therapy. “On staff we also have two Service Success Specialists who serve as support for the people engaging in services should they need assistance in using the telehealth platform,” Ladd said. “Our Service Success Specialists can also talk with people who want to learn more about TherapyDirect before actually committing to service participation.”

Also on staff are program evaluators who use data to inform program development, a clinical quality coordinator using person-centered design, and an IT specialist to assist people seeking services.

Why the name change

Dr. Carl Clark, President and CEO of WellPower, wrote a piece for Colorado Biz magazine where he explains why MHCD changed its name. “To more fully embody our identity, and ‘open the door wider’ for more people in Denver, we are changing our name and updating our brand.

“The name WellPower promotes the vital connection between a person’s mental health and overall well-being,” Clark continues. “It also coincides with operational changes to help us better serve a new Denver, so very different from the Mile High City of 30 years ago.”

Clark said the organization offers a guaranteed minimum wage of $50,000 per year for full-time staff. “Since launching this initiative in December 2021, the applications we’ve received have increased by 60 percent, while our vacant positions have decreased by 36 percent. With more staff, we can treat more Denverites and improve our city’s well-being.”

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at local newspapers in Los Angeles, Detroit, and the Quad-Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Upon moving to Denver in 2018, I began experiencing severe mental illness due to several traumatic experiences. I became homeless on the street for about a year before spending time in the state mental hospital. I am living proof that people can rebound from mental illness with proper treatment, even after experiencing homelessness. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver. I hope my writing reflects the passion I have for living here.

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