The Free Mental Health Clinic on the Billings Campus
By Claira Eastwood
The free mental health clinic on the Walla Walla University Billings, Montana Social Work campus has been available to the community for six years. Under the guidance of trained clinicians, social work students can gain the experience they need in order to work in the field after graduating with their master’s degree in social work. 
The community at large is also able to benefit from free counseling. Through the mental health clinic, clients can receive counseling for individuals, couples, and families.
Nicole Helgeson, who has worked there for two and a half years and writes grants for the clinic, had many wonderful things to say about the services they are able to provide.
Helgeson explained that WWU allows the clinic to have the space and facilities needed to operate. While the social work students use the buildings for classes on Mondays, the clinic is able to use the buildings from Tuesdays through Thursdays.
Like most things in the past year, the mental health clinic has had to change the way it operates due to COVID-19. While the clinic has been open Tuesdays through Thursdays, right now they are only open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. One of the biggest changes has been seen in the age range clinicians can see.
Although the clinic has been able to see children of all ages since it opened, while doing virtual appointments the minimum age has been raised to 10. “It’s difficult for children younger than that to focus on therapy when it’s online,” Helgeson said. 
Sessions were being held entirely online, but as of last Monday, clients could return to the offices in person. In order to do so safely, clients have their temperature taken before entering the offices, masks are worn, and the lobby is closed to avoid gatherings of people.
Although clients can return to the offices, Helgeson believes that keeping virtual appointments as an option will be beneficial for the community. “There are lots of rural communities surrounding Billings, which is the largest city in Montana,” she said, adding that the winter months can make traveling for therapy difficult, and having to find childcare can make it hard for working parents to find time for therapy as well. 
Keeping virtual appointments available may allow the clinic to reach more people. Last year, the clinic was able to reach people not only in other parts of Montana, but also in Wyoming, Colorado, and North Dakota.
The free mental health clinic on the Billings Social Work campus has been able to serve 400 people since it opened six years ago. Helgeson said, “It’s just a win-win. It’s a win for our community that we’re able to offer free services. We do not have a limit on how many times they can come. We just ask that they have good attendance and communicate well. And then it’s a really big win for our students. We have interviewed students as they’re leaving, and they feel in comparison to their peers that they are a lot further along with the therapy process.” 
Going to therapy is not always an easy choice to make, but having a free mental health clinic can take one worry away and open up the opportunity to more people. Helgeson smiled as she said, “We try to make it a soft place for people to fall.”  That’s exactly what the clinic is—a soft place for people to fall when they need help and can’t go anywhere else.
- Walla Walla University. Walla Walla University Billings Mental Health Clinic. Retrieved April 6, 2021 from https://www.wallawalla.edu/academics/grad-studies/social-work-msw/billings-campus/mental-health-clinic/.
- Interview with Helgeson, 4/7/2021.