ASHLAND — Oregonians with mental health issues know the dilemma all too well: They live on disability, have a limited income, don't have health insurance but earn too much to qualify for the Oregon Health Plan. If they need help, there's nowhere to turn.

ASHLAND — Oregonians with mental health issues know the dilemma all too well: They live on disability, have a limited income, don't have health insurance but earn too much to qualify for the Oregon Health Plan. If they need help, there's nowhere to turn.

That's changing for some. Now the Community Counseling Center of Ashland, which opened its doors in November, may be able to help them.

The first of its kind in the Rogue Valley, its goal, according to co-founder Nando Raynolds, is two-fold. The first is to offer service to those who need mental health therapy but who have fallen through the cracks. The second is to provide ongoing training to current students and recent graduates of Southern Oregon University's master's program in mental health counseling.

That means patients can get the help they need and the new counselors can get the supervised work experience necessary to become licensed practitioners.

Raynolds, who said mental health care in this country has been inadequate for decades, also sees the current economic crisis creating an ever-increasing number of people with depression, anxiety and crisis within their home life.

"The need for this sort of service is very high," Raynolds said.

Many of those who have the greatest need for support are those who, ironically, have the toughest time obtaining this help since the loss of a job often results in the loss of health insurance.

CCC hopes to help rectify this problem. It aims to provide a refuge for Valley residents who don't qualify for the Oregon Health Plan, don't have health insurance or may not be happy with the services they're currently getting. The Center charges according to a three-tier schedule, based on a client's ability to pay. Sessions range from less than $10 to over $50, depending on the experience of the therapist, who may be a second-year graduate student, someone working towards licensure or be a licensed practitioner.

When interns handle the session, they receive constant supervision, under Raynolds and his wife and co-founder, Sharon Bolles, who also is an adjunct faculty member at SOU. Both are licensed mental health practitioners with more than 20 years' experience. Raynolds is a licensed psychotherapist who practiced in Ashland and Talent before moving his office to the center. He also worked as a counselor at SOU and at Talent Middle School. Bolles, a licensed counselor with a private practice in Ashland, supervises first-year graduate students in the master's program.

Unlike many community mental health centers across the country, the interns are expected to stick with the center for the long haul, hopefully to establish an ongoing practice at the center. That means patients are less at risk of being shepherded to a different therapist after a few months.

Competition for the work experience program is keen. Julie Ibrahim, a second-year student in the master's program at SOU, had to audition for one of four coveted spots as an intern. Internships are a required element of the master's program, but before this program the options for work experience in the valley were generally limited to schools or agencies that offer specialized services, such as dealing with victims of domestic violence or substance abuse. CCC is the first of its kind to provide its interns with the opportunity to work with a broad clientele in individual therapy or couples' counseling.

When presented with the opportunity to work at the center, Ibrahim says she "jumped at the chance," although she juggles her time serving at several agencies throughout the area.

"It was totally aligned with my philosophy," she said. "There's a huge need in the community for counseling that's affordable. A lot of my clients didn't have anywhere to go."

Ibrahim said that in addition to getting good, supervised experience, she sees the program as an opportunity to build a practice in the Rogue Valley and relishes the chance to find herself within a community of practicing therapists.

"It's great to bounce ideas off each other," she said.

Barbara Usselman-Crowfoot, who graduated from the program at SOU in 2009 and is working toward her license, agreed. "I love what they're doing," she said. "It's really close to my heart to provide counseling to people who can't pay."

In addition to serving as a forum where interns requiring work experience can get the opportunity to work with clients struggling with real-life mental health issues, CCC also hopes to provide ongoing classes for community residents and local mental health practitioners, with subjects ranging from managing depression to living with mindfulness. Support groups already formed include those for people dealing with chronic illness and others who are caretakers.

CCC functions like most mental health facilities in the area in that its therapists pay for rental space. Each therapist, in essence, is self-employed and is charged for the use of the space and for supervision. The amount they pay varies, depending on how much they charge their clients. They also accept clients who have insurance.

The Center is at 600 Siskiyou Blvd. For more information, see or call 541-708-5436. Potential clients are asked to call to make an appointment

Cynthia Benjamin is a freelance writer living in Ashland.