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Economy reduces number who can afford counseling

By Yvonne Lopez-Morton

As director of counseling services at St. Joseph’s Family Center in Spokane, Catherine Armstead sees the psychological impact of the economic recession.

Catherine Armstad
Catherine Armstead

“Counseling is a luxury when your finances are minimal or non-existent,” she said.

A person may need therapy, but still has to pay the rent or house payment, feed the family or pay for medications.

“We have multiple calls each week, sometimes each day, from people who have no income but need or want counseling,” she said.  “They have nowhere to go.”

 “It can feel as if there is no way for the person needing counseling and having to make decisions how to use the small amount of money they have,” she observed.

 St. Joseph’s mission, she said, honors community values and provides services people can’t access through other programs.

Given the struggles people face, she finds it fulfilling when someone she is counseling makes positive changes.

“People come to counseling for various reasons and if their internal motivation is less than their external motivation, their readiness for change may not be high,” said Catherine.

Such internal conflict may reduce a person’s commitment to follow through with moving issues in their lives to resolution.

She said that if they cannot have counseling it complicates any existing mental health concerns by adding stress to their issues.

A career centered on a passion for counseling and helping others overcome personal and family challenges brought Catherine three years ago to St. Joseph’s Family Center, which was founded and is sponsored by the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia.

Catherine said its outpatient counseling, spiritual and healing arts focus on the development of the whole person, strengthening families and creating a healthier community.

Her staff includes three marriage and family therapists, a mental health counselor, a psychiatric nurse practitioner, a social worker and administrative staff. 

In addition to administrative tasks and fund raising, she also provides personal counseling services with center clients.

The key issues clients face are depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety, as well as couple and relationship issues.

Counseling and mediation services support children through seniors as individuals, couples and families.

Staff also offer classes and workshops on relationship enhancement, anger management and parenting children of divorce.

Catherine said that the parenting children of divorce classes, for example, help parents understand how divorce or separations affect their children at different developmental stages. In addition they learn how to create a supportive and safe climate for their children in order to reduce the impact of conflict and acquire communication skills.

Sessions for anger management are separate for men and women.  Participants learn the nature of anger, ways to identify the triggers, alternatives to aggression when angry, coping skills and personal strength.

Catherine said it’s important for people to learn to express anger constructively rather than destructively, to be aware of how anger affects their life and learn to deal with angry outbursts, strained relationships and personal frustration.

SJFC accepts most insurance plans and, while they receive no government funding, they provide services to seniors on Medicare. They do not accept Medicaid.  Fee assistance is available to those who qualify. 

The center raises funding from private donations and through local fund-raising events.

Catherine was born in Spokane where she lived for 19 years before pursuing her educational and professional goals. She was away from Spokane for 34 years and then returned to Spokane in 2006 to be closer to family and also pursue new job opportunities.

She has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology from Central Washington University and a doctorate from Washington State University.

Her career has included working for school districts and higher education, including serving as staff psychologist and multicultural services coordinator at Eastern Washington University when she returned to Spokane where she was a psychologist and the coordinator of Multicultural Services.

Her individual counseling, crisis intervention and outreach to the university community addressed issues such as relationships, depression, eating disorders, academic performance, substance abuse, self-esteem and childhood physical/sexual abuse.

As coordinator of multicultural services, she served as a liaison for diverse students to ensure their academic and student-life success.

Catherine, who was raised a Pentecostal and has attended several of Spokane’s historic black churches, said she was raised in a home that was committed to helping others less fortunate.

She said that her mother, through church activities, was always collecting things for others.

Knowing there was always someone struggling more than their family, she said her faith taught her “to think of others before yourself,” so it was natural for her to pursue a career that focused on how she could help others.

When asked how faith intersects with counseling she explained that a person’s idea of the connection between their faith, health and healing is personal.

“When clients talk about their faith being important to them, I work with them to bring that into counseling,” Catherine said. “I don’t impose my own values on them but work with them to clarify how they want to utilize their faith in counseling.

She explained that for those that are really motivated and make a commitment to change, their faith becomes a positive force in their healing.

For information, call 483-6495.