Iowa State professor expanding access with counseling clinic

Network Community Counseling Staff

Nathaniel Wade (standing) oversees group counseling sessions at Network Community Counseling Clinic. Photo by Bob Elbert (Larger photo)

AMES, Iowa – Access to affordable mental health services is often a roadblock that prevents people from getting the help they need. In fact, of the 8.9 million adults with a mental illness or substance abuse disorder, nearly 40 percent do not receive treatment, according to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.  

Nathaniel Wade, an associate professor of psychology at Iowa State University and licensed psychologist, wants to eliminate that barrier through Network Community Counseling Services. The clinic, affiliated with ISU’s Department of Psychology, is open to the community and offers individual and group counseling sessions for a nominal fee, ranging from $5 to $20. Without insurance, typical group counseling sessions can range from $40 to $150 or more.  

“For people who don’t have great insurance, it’s very hard to get in to see a therapist. I think that’s one of the needs we really fill at Network. We can help people who don’t have adequate or any insurance to deal with mental health concerns,” Wade said.

Network is one of the few clinics to offer group therapy sessions. Wade says most therapists don’t offer groups because of insurance reimbursement rates, but there are several benefits to a group setting. Each group is limited to about eight clients who are dealing with some of the same mental health problems, Wade said. Therapists use the dynamics of each group to help clients recognize and work through their issues.    

“People heal their own problems when they help other people,” Wade said. “It’s really powerful for people to have the opportunity to share positive things with each other in group and give feedback. That feedback, for a lot of clients, is much more powerful than hearing something positive from a therapist.”

Groups are not focused on addressing one specific problem, but are centered on general concerns, such as coping with anxiety or relationship problems or developing self-esteem and self-acceptance. Network recently expanded to include individual counseling for clients waiting to be assigned to a group or those who would benefit from one-on-one sessions.

Overcoming stigma of therapy

Taking that first step to schedule an appointment and attend a counseling session isn’t easy. Wade says people may see it as a sign of weakness because of public or individual stigma attached to mental illness and therapy. That stigma can still exist even after someone starts counseling.

Wade and his colleagues have studied different interventions in group settings to overcome self-stigma. In a 2011 study, published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology, they found a reduction in stigma after clients attended just one counseling session. This reduction was attributed to the depth of the group session and the alliance or bond between group members.

Bre, a former Network client who asked to only use her first name, was reluctant to attend her first group session. It took several years for Bre to even realize she needed help understanding when she was angry, and the idea of sharing that with a group was scary.

“It takes some time to build trust in the group setting, but to be able to talk with other people and have those interactions in group was immensely helpful,” Bre said. “It also helps you realize you’re not alone. It’s easy for a therapist or counselor to tell you that, but when you actually see others struggling with the same things you are, it really helps.”  

Bre says she was fortunate to be referred to Network after graduating from Iowa State. That made it possible for her to continue with group counseling without worrying about insurance or if she could afford therapy. It’s also given her the tools to build better relationships and deal with difficult situations.

“Therapy can be a struggle, but Network was there to safely push me in a direction so I could learn how to be successful and happy and content with where I’m at in my life,” Bre said.

Network provides training and research

Network provides a much-needed service for the community as well as a way for doctoral candidates in Iowa State’s counseling psychology program to gain additional experience. Network counselors all have master’s degrees and considerable experience, and Wade supervises all sessions. The clinic also offers continuing education for licensed mental health practitioners.

At times, Wade also offers themed groups at Network to study different practices and therapy styles. Most are short-term studies that focus on specific issues, such as forgiveness, and are conducted with patient consent.

Network is currently offering a support group for Iowa State veterans to talk about transition concerns, combat-related memories and struggles, and depression, anxiety or sleep problems.

To schedule an appointment or to learn more about Network Community Counseling Services call 515-294-1898 or log on to