Pictured is the play-therapy room for children at the Buffalo Counseling Center

In the wake of recent tragedies such as the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., many politicians, lobbyists and citizens have called for a greater availability of mental-health services in the U.S.

In Dallas County, residents have several places at which they can seek psychological and emotional help. In addition to individuals with private practices, two centers offer mental health services in Buffalo: Buffalo Counseling Center and Dallas County Family Medical Center.

Buffalo Counseling Center

The most recent addition to the county is the Buffalo Counseling Center, which opened in October at 741 W. Main St. Leanne Boggs, 25, a provisionally licensed professional counselor at the center, said the center is still in its growing stages and continues to see an increase in new patients. The center’s beginning in Buffalo was the result of a serendipitous turn of events.

Boggs and Sheri Robbins, also a provisionally licensed professional counselor, both attended Evangel University in Springfield for their master’s degrees in counseling psychology and school counseling, respectively. Both also interned with Steven Richards, a licensed professional counselor at Calming the Storm, a counseling center in Lebanon.

Richards agreed to supervise Boggs and Robbins at the newly created Buffalo Counseling Center, a satellite site of Calming the Storm, while the two are in their provisionally licensed stage.

“It just kind of fell into place,” Boggs said. “It worked out.”

After at least two years as provisionally licensed professional counselors, 3,000 hours of counseling work and 1,200 hours of direct interactions with patients, Boggs and Robbins may then apply for full licensure.

Once she becomes fully licensed, Boggs said she might start her own counseling service, but plans to stay in Buffalo. Boggs, a 2006 graduate of Buffalo High School, said even from a young age, she knew she wanted to do some sort of counseling. In high school, she considered substance-abuse counseling, and in college she considered school counseling, but she ultimately settled on therapeutic counseling.

Her passion for counseling was at least partly sparked in high school when she said she saw other students make poor choices with alcohol and drugs or experience the loss of family members. At that time, Boggs said there was a lack of counseling options available in Buffalo.

“It was hard to see fellow classmates go through that (their struggles) without having anything to help them through it,” Boggs said.

Now things have come full circle, and Boggs and Robbins offer counseling to both children and adults. Boggs said she generally counsels patients 10 years of age and older, and Robbins focuses on play therapy with children younger than 10.

Because of the wide age range she covers, Boggs said no two days are ever the same.

“My day can vary between seeing someone in their 50s to someone in their teens,” Boggs said. Play therapy is one of the most popular services, Boggs said, partly because it’s difficult to find centers that take children as young as 4 or 5. In addition to play therapy, the center also offers individual counseling for children and adults, couples counseling and family or group counseling.

Boggs and Robbins see patients during some of the most difficult points in their lives. Children who come to the center are often there because they have experienced sexual abuse or other types of abuse, Boggs said. They might also have anxiety, depression or anger issues at home or school. Health departments, divisions of family services and schools sometimes refer children to the center.

Adults often come to the center because of grief, depression, anxiety, family problems or trouble adjusting to changes, such as retirement, job loss or divorce. The struggling economy might have had an impact on residents’ mental well-being, Boggs said, because of the added stress a job loss or financial problems can bring.

“That’s what I see most: an increase in stress,” Boggs said. “Stress has a way of working its way into everything.”

One of the things Boggs is most proud of is the affordability of the center’s services. She said the center offers sliding scale fee discounts for all services. That is, patients pay fees based on their income.

“We make it extremely affordable for low-income people,” Boggs said. Boggs said the center also offers insurance discounts and she can arrange transportation for children and teens from school if their parents aren’t able to drive them.

“Our goal as a counseling center in Buffalo is to provide the community with mental health that is affordable and comfortable to come to,” Boggs said. “We’re flexible, and we’re here to help our clients and the community however we can.”

Dallas County Family Medical Center

Likewise, the mental-health professionals at the Dallas County Family Medical Center seek to improve the overall health of the community. Three psychologists — Richard Adams, John Howell and Dana LaMair — and a psychiatrist — Angela Olomon — spend at least part of their weeks at the medical center, which is at 201 S. Ash St.

Adams said he’s worked at the center for about five years, and in that time, his hours at the center have increased to four days per week. He also spends one day per week at the Stockton Family Medical Center. Both centers are part of the Citizens Memorial Healthcare system.

In the past five years, Adams said the Buffalo medical center has added psychologists, indicating an increase in mental health needs. He said he thinks the volatile state of the country has worn on some people’s mental health.

“The general political and economic unrest, combined with prolific substance abuse in the community,” Adams said, is responsible for many patients’ mental-health concerns. “In the Buffalo area, in Dallas County, there aren’t a lot of jobs available, and a lack of available long-term employment can place a lot of stress on individuals.”

Adams, 37, said he mostly sees individuals, including children more than 9 years old and adults. The center, though, also offers couples therapy and family therapy. Specifically, therapy options include cognitive behavioral therapy, insight-oriented therapy and supportive therapy.

Adams said he tries to encourage his patients to make healthier choices in their lives that can benefit both their mental and physical well-being.

“We provide individuals with psychological education, we provide individuals with perspective, and we help them look for solutions on their own,” Adams said.

Instead of ordering patients to make a particular change, Adams said it is more worthwhile for patients to come to recognize areas for improvement themselves.

The mental-health professionals at the center deal with a wide range of psychological issues, such as grieving, depression and anxiety. Regardless of the issue, though, Adams said individual therapy seems to be the most widely used service. Patients might come to the center through referrals from primary care physicians, schools or divisions of family services.

However, Adams said it’s not necessary for patients to have a referral. Adams is originally from Sullivan, a rural community southwest of St. Louis, and he earned his master’s in psychology and his doctorate in psychology from The School of Professional Psychology at Forest Institute, which has campuses in both Springfield and St. Louis.

He said he’s always had an interest in helping people find motivation to benefit not only themselves but also the community.

“I believe that individuals in themselves have the power to make healthy changes to help make them successful,” Adams said. Adams said Buffalo is not immune from tragedies like the one in Newtown, but by making mental health services readily available, the community as a whole will be healthier, safer and better off.

“There is a significant need in the community for mental-health care, and without that care, individuals will limit their ability to be successful,” Adams said.

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