Colorado bill will bring free substance abuse counseling to UCCS 

     A new Colorado bill hopes to provide funding to set up a free virtual substance use counseling center at UCCS. 

     If the bill passes, substance abuse counseling program coordinator Cortny Stark said the free service would meet a critical need in the community while providing invaluable training for UCCS substance use counseling students. With much of the groundwork finished, the program will be fully functioning by fall if the bill passes. 

     “These training clinics meet a critical need in the community for folks that fall through the cracks. [The patients] keep encountering wrong doors when it comes to behavioral health and mental health services … so having a no-barrier or low-barrier service really ensures success,” Stark said. 

     Stark helps shape all the training, education and fieldwork opportunities for UCCS students pursuing substance use and recovery counseling credentials in Colorado. The program will operate strictly through telehealth due to its location on campus. The online medium increases its accessibility to a broader range of clients while avoiding a negative impact on day-to-day UCCS operations such as crowding parking.   

     About 25 students will work in the center, allowing at least 125 clients to receive counseling. In addition, since the students remain on campus, it not only eases their introduction to the counseling field but allows for immediate feedback from professors and instructors. 

     There will be no cost or criteria for treatment. Stark said the program would decide with each case if the client’s need is within the student’s scope of practice. If students cannot provide the services, Stark said the program offers a network of community partners available for referral. 

     Stark said the program’s phone line would be open year-round to accept calls from prospective clients. Once the initial screening is complete, the client will complete an intake appointment and staff will assign them to a student counselor for 12-16 weeks. 

     “There’s a treatment plan using all the standards of practice, marked goals and evidence-based treatment modalities. So, all the things that they’re learning in their program, these counselors will finally get to apply with someone,” Stark said. 

     Professors and instructors will supervise the students throughout the process and provide immediate feedback or even step into a session if needed. 

     “There’s a lot of scaffolding and support. And although sites out in the community can provide a lot of support as well, they have limitations because their bottom line is being able to provide as many clients with as much service as possible. We want to be able to provide services as well, but that training component is also a great priority,” Stark said. 

     According to Stark, it had been a dream of the department to have a counseling service on campus. She noticed that UCCS already had the infrastructure for the program in Columbine but lacked the necessary funding. 

     Stark and other members of the program came from universities with similar programs. Stark said she hopes to combine their experiences to “recreate that same magic here.” 

     Stark said that if the bill doesn’t pass to approve funding, the program will begin looking at other grants and foundations that could support their mission.