Teaming up for mental health

"Four local mental health professionals once worked as a team at Island Mental Health of Whidbey Island, sharing ideas and resources in treating the problems that walked in the door.But after a round of serious budget cuts last spring, three of them lost their jobs, including long-time Island Mental Health director Steve Daggett. Other mental health services were cut at the agency as well.To fill the current void in mental health care on Whidbey, the four professionals have come up with an ambitious solution: They started their own counseling business in Coupeville.It’s called Whidbey Island Counseling Associates. The business partners include Steve Daggett, Linda Riley, Bruce Bardwell and Mary Stewart. Combined, Daggett estimates they have over 80 years of experience.A unique aspect of their practice is that Stewart, as a psychiatric nurse practitioner, is able to prescribe drugs, so the others will be able to refer their clients to her. Stewart also works part time at Island Mental Health.The counseling offices are currently located above the Kingfisher Bookstore on Front Street, but they will be moving into a brand new office space on South Main Street — next to Sally’s Garden — in mid-November.Even though they just opened the counseling business and haven’t advertised, business is already good. Proof, they say, of the need for counseling services, especially in Central Whidbey.But for professionals who have worked at a public agency for many years, stepping out into private practice has its challenges. “Now I have to interface directly with insurance companies,” Riley said. “So I’m learning a lot of new skills.”But there’s also many benefits, from the perspective of both the counselors and their patients. At Island Mental Health, Daggett said there was a “treat them and street them” mentality since budget and time with counselors was limited. Riley said she was seeing between 18 to 23 clients a week before her position was terminated.In private practice, Bardwell said he’s been able to put the needs of his clients first. “I’m freer to provide the kind of therapy I want to provide to my clients,” he said.Since they are in business together as a team, Bardwell said they will be able to share ideas and have a built-in support system of colleagues. In addition, they each have their own areas of expertise and interest.Daggett has a Master’s degree in counseling psychology and is a certified mental health counselor. He specializes in short-term strategic therapy which focus on solutions rather than problems.Riley has a master’s degree in transpersonal psychology counseling. She is certified as a marriage and family therapist, a spiritual emergence counselor and a rape crisis counselor. She has extensive training in trauma disorders and body movement psychology.Bardwell is a certified marriage and family therapist. He has a master’s degree and qualifies as a state child mental health specialist and is a court-approved guardian ad litem.Stewart has been a psychiatric nurse practitioner for 18 years and a registered nurse for 25 years. She is licensed to do psychiatric evaluations and prescribe medications for clients with depression, anxiety disorders and other health disorders. Whidbey Island Counseling Associates can be reached at 678-5840 or toll free at 877-738-6500. "

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