by Dr. Alisha Brosse, Sutherland Center Associate Director

If you are at all familiar with the Sutherland Center, then you probably know that our mission is to provide clinical services to people who can’t afford them in the community. You may be less familiar with our other commitment: to train clinicians in research-supported psychotherapy for bipolar disorders.

We are passionate about this! Through this training we have a much broader impact, not only along the Front Range of Colorado, but all across the country. To date we have trained 32 advanced doctoral students. Five of these student therapists are now licensed clinical psychologists who provide clinical care along the Front Range. Because of their training with us, they are able to provide high-quality, evidence-based psychotherapy to people in our community who can afford treatment in the community. When people call the Sutherland Center seeking referrals, it is wonderful to know where to send them!

Other former graduate student therapists have taken their skillsets to various states throughout the country. One has even brought his skillset back to his native country of Iceland. In this way, the Sutherland Center has indirectly impacted the treatment of bipolar disorder in a much broader geographic region.

Our training mission doesn’t only broaden our reach. It also is what makes it possible for us to treat so many with relatively few financial resources. In one hour I can either see one patient myself, or I can supervise four hours of clinical service delivered by student therapists. In addition, it is our student therapists who run our therapy group in which we treat up to 10 clients simultaneously. Student therapists are paid an hourly wage far, far below the average community fee of $140 per session. Thus, our training mission confers to us tremendous cost savings and greatly increases our treatment capacity.

You may wonder how proficient our student therapists are. After all, bipolar disorders are serious and complex illnesses. Are such inexperienced therapists up to the task? Yes they are! First, you should know that it is the select few who get admitted to the doctoral program at the University of Colorado Boulder; we get the cream of the crop here. Then there’s the fact that the Sutherland Center is not folded into the general training clinic. Interested students apply to work with us, and we select those we believe are the best fit for the Center. Most importantly, our patients regularly tell us that our student therapists are proficient. Here are a few examples:

“You have a very talented group of young professionals there… [They are] wise beyond their years.”

“I couldn’t ask for much better… [My therapist] has been understanding, resourceful… He’s gone over and above. He really listens.”

“Very pleased with [my therapist]… [I have an] excellent relationship with him.”

“She’s deeply compassionate…she’s excellent…very flexible. [I have] only positive feedback.”

“[The group therapists are] really sharp. Very impressed with them. Very open, flexible – not strict/rigid.”

“I really enjoy their [the group therapists’] style. Those ladies are going to change many lives.”

“[My therapist’s] done an amazing job of providing me with a foundation to work through my current difficulties. She’s tuned in. Such a blessing”

“Your therapists here are incredibly good – smart and intuitive… non-judgmental and very human.”

“…None of these good things would have happened without the help of the people of the Sutherland Center. They have been unfailingly warm and friendly whether in a class, therapy or crossing paths in the waiting area. I have told many of the people with bipolar disorder I’ve encountered in the last year about Sutherland, hoping that they will come there and find help. I am convinced that I am getting better treatment than anyone with bipolar that I have talked to in depth.”

We hear equally glowing reviews from the therapists we train. Here is a sample of what some have written about their experience training at the Sutherland Center.

“I just wanted to write and let you know that there are many times on internship when I am so grateful for my training through Sutherland… I often think about your words of wisdom during many types of situations (i.e., how would Alisha handle this?).”

“The training and supervision I received at the Sutherland Center was without a doubt the most thorough, intensive, and important training experience I received in my five years of predoctoral training at CU.”

“I worked as a clinician in the program for three years, and it was without exaggeration, the best clinical training experience I had while a graduate student at the University. I have benefited professionally from my training at the Sutherland Center, and find my knowledge of diagnosis and treatment of bipolar disorder to be in high demand.”

“My experiences at the Center were a profoundly important aspect of my clinical training at CU, and have contributed to my professional success in myriad ways… Many MUSC [Medical University of South Carolina] faculty told me that my experience at the Center in assessing and treating individuals with bipolar disorders made me a unique and desirable internship
candidate. The opportunity to treat individuals with severe psychopathology, and to do so under the remarkable clinical supervision offered at the Center, is very rare in clinical psychology Ph.D. programs.”

“The training I have received through the Sutherland Center was unique because of its emphasis on evidence-based treatment of Bipolar Disorder, a disorder that is frequently misdiagnosed and undertreated in the mental health field at large. Many individuals who do receive treatment often do not receive the kind of evidence-based treatment that would be most effective in alleviating symptoms and improving functioning. In addition to superior training in treatment provision, I
received unparalleled training in differential diagnosis, coordination of care, and interfacing with client support services. It was the only training opportunity offered directly through CU that provided this degree of training. Furthermore, it was the only experience available to me through my training program to gain expertise in working with individuals who may have psychosis, suicidal ideation, or extremely impaired functioning. My experiences through the Sutherland Center helped me to achieve a top-ranked internship and have helped shape me as a clinician. To this day, as a faculty-level clinician in a highly respected medical center, I still rely on skills that I learned through this training.”

“I benefited greatly from some of the best clinical supervision I have received to date at the Center—and learned much about assessment and treatment—and no other experience at UCB prepared me better for internship. But more than anything, it was the privilege of meeting so many people with bipolar disorder that I remember most vividly and most fondly.”

“Last night I had the opportunity to attend a former Sutherland Center client’s graduation from an alcohol recovery program. I was touched when the client asked me to stand and stated, ‘I would not be here today without your support. You saved my life.’ It is an honor to be a treatment provider at Sutherland Center, where I have the opportunity to witness individuals, such as my former client, transform their lives.”

We are very fortunate that most of our student therapists elect to work with us for more than their initial one-year commitment. This provides their patients with continuity and allows us to greatly benefit from their ever-increasing expertise. I am sad to be saying good-bye to two of our most experienced graduate student therapists, both of whom have been with us for three years. A big shout out to Lauren Landy and Andrea Pelletier-Baldelli, who have combined to provide over 800 hours of clinical care to Sutherland Center patients!