Offering hope: Sioux Falls Psychological Services meets growing demand for mental health care

July 22, 2020

This paid piece is sponsored by Sioux Falls Seminary.

The team at Sioux Falls Psychological Services could see far enough into the future to realize it wouldn’t be many more years before half of all their client visits would be conducted online.

Instead, over two weeks earlier this year, “we went to 99 percent telehealth, and we’re still there, and I think we’re going to stay there,” said Doug Anderson, who serves as co-director of the office and has been there since 1992.

“We have to think through why we would see someone in the office now, and in many cases there’s no reason not to do telehealth.”

Sioux Falls Psychological Services, which is part of Sioux Falls Seminary, was well equipped for the sudden shift. The counseling team had put together a working group about four years ago, researched telehealth in psychotherapy for six months and started implementing it.

“We had trained our team and worked through ethics and compliance and confidentiality and safety, so when we made the transition due to COVID-19, it was only a bump. A lot of other people in our field had to climb a mountain,” he said.

“We had everything in place – the platform, consent form – and we went from doing 350 face-to-face sessions a week and about 4 percent of our clientele in telehealth to nearly everyone in telehealth.”

The shift was a critical one as the pandemic has patients using the variety of services at Sioux Falls Psychological as much as ever.

“The pandemic is elevating a pre-existing condition of national anxiety and depression,” said Anderson, who also is a licensed psychologist and marriage and family therapist in addition to serving as a professor of counseling at Sioux Falls Seminary.

“It’s not been an easy time, and this plays out in the mental health of people, so there has been an increase in psychological and relationship problems.”

Foundation for service

The union between a seminary and a psychology practice might not seem immediately obvious, but history brings some clarity.

The practice was formed in 1974 by a seminary professor who used it as a way to make a living while teaching.

“When he retired, he essentially gave the practice to the seminary, and it became a training center for our counseling students,” Anderson said.

“People sometimes misunderstand and think we’ll push faith. We’re not pushing faith. We’re pushing healthy relationships and good mental health, and we will walk with anyone who walks through the door. Our faith informs us as therapists. It helps us esteem our patients at the highest level, and it impacts the way we care for, treat and walk with the client.”

The office is on the Sioux Falls Seminary campus in central Sioux Falls – across from Augustana University’s campus – and serves as the university’s counseling center. It has continued to serve that role virtually in recent months. 

According to Nate Helling, CFO and vice president of operations at Sioux Falls Seminary: “People are often surprised to learn that Sioux Falls Seminary operates one of the largest counseling clinics in the region. The assumption is that we only offer graduate degrees for future pastors.

“We are in the business of developing people. The work that we do at Sioux Falls Psychological Services is not something extra, it is core to our mission.”

Sometimes, potential clients misunderstand the connection and don’t seek care – a misperception Sioux Falls Psychological Services hopes to address, Anderson said.

“Our doors are open to absolutely everybody, and sometimes because we’re a faith-based organization, people don’t understand that, but we work with everyone.”

Interdisciplinary approach

The Sioux Falls Psychological team includes two dozen therapists and staff with a broad range of specialties, including:

  • Life changes and transitions
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Trauma, abuse and betrayal
  • Anger and conflict
  • Grief and loss
  • Marital affairs
  • Self-image and self-worth
  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Impact of addiction
  • Issues related to substance abuse
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Relationship challenges
  • Chronic pain and illness
  • Separation, divorce or remarriage
  • Identity, gender or sexual concerns
  • Rape and sexual abuse
  • Medical or spiritual issues
  • Medical conditions
  • Career counseling
  • Post traumatic stress disorder

“One of the things I focused on from our earliest days that we continue to focus on is diversity of training and interests,” Anderson said.

“One therapist sharpens another, so that sense of diversity and learning from each other is a vitally important part of what we do.”

The practice also provides psychological assessments and evaluations for a range of purposes, including:

  • Pre-employment and legal processes
  • Child custody and adoption evaluations
  • Psychological evaluations
  • Clarity of psychological diagnosis
  • Determination of treatment plans
  • Home studies and consultations

The office is comprised of multiple clinics, including a Therapy and Assessment Clinic for individuals who are insured or financially able to afford therapy and a Community Counseling Clinic that serves the needs of those who are uninsured or underinsured. The community clinic is staffed primarily by supervised students at Sioux Falls Seminary who are pursuing master’s degrees in counseling.

There’s also high demand for the office’s Child & Adolescent Therapy Clinic, which is committed to treating those 18 and younger and the people who care for them.

“Last year, our child and adolescent clinic accounted for 31 percent of all sessions,” Anderson said. “And this year, we will likely do more than 18,000 total sessions, which gives you a sense of the demand. Minors in the Sioux Falls area have had unmet needs when it comes to mental health issues, so when we expanded into this area, the clinic grew very quickly.”

The clinic often sees children with issues involving trauma and attachment, Anderson said.

“We have good people in this community doing really good things with kids, so it’s not that we lack quality, but there simply aren’t enough providers, so we’re doing our best to help meet the need.”

Sioux Falls Psychological Services also runs River Counseling Services, providing mental health services to residents of Platte and surrounding communities in south-central South Dakota.

Going forward, Anderson expects to continue emphasizing telehealth care, both for its greater accessibility and for its affordability. It allows the practice to reach clients statewide and around the Sioux Falls region more easily, and research is showing its effectiveness is as good or better than in-person care, he said.

“We’re anticipating that even though we’ve seen an increase, there is still need for more care in the community,” Anderson said. “We know parents have had a rough year – working at home and helping kids go to school. It’s been very, very difficult. We want to make sure the community knows we’re here.”

And whether the counseling is face-to-face or through a screen, the approach is the same.

“I often say every client is like a new book I’ve never read before,” Anderson said. “I can never assume I understand you because you come out of a new context and I have to take time to understand it. I don’t know if it’s a fast or slow read. Some books take longer. And the kind of issues a person brings shape that, so sometimes we do short-term interventionist work and sometimes very long-term walking with them. It all depends on what the client needs.”

To learn more

If you’re interested in learning more about Sioux Falls Psychological Services, please call 605-334-2696 or fill out a form online. The practice offers day and evening hours and can schedule most appointments within three working days.

Sioux Falls Psychological Services therapists are members of various professional organizations, including the American Psychological Association, the South Dakota Psychological Association, the Christian Association for Psychological Studies, the American Counseling Association and the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.

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Offering hope: Sioux Falls Psychological Services meets growing demand for mental health care

When the pandemic hit, this psychology practice shifted its approach fast — to serve the growing need for mental health care in Sioux Falls and beyond.

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