Jorgensen and McKinney, two “women in action.” PHOTO BY KEELY LARSON

WIA welcomes two interns to Big Sky

I think the thing that is so appealing to me in the rural sense of the community is that what I have found in Montana is it’s not so much of a community as everybody just becomes a family, for the good and the bad, Jorgensen added.

Women In Action (WIA)’s waitlist is about to be no more. Heidi McKinley, human development clinic director who partners with WIA to get counselors to Big Sky, is happy to finally see two interns making the commute. McKinley has been partnering with WIA and sending interns through the counseling program at Montana State University for eight years now and this is the first year more than one intern will be servicing Big Sky.

“What we were finding with just one counseling intern out there (Big Sky) is that people would have to wait a long time to get in. We were finding people were having to wait months, and that’s just really hard. It takes a lot, sometimes, for people to make that initial phone call. It’s a vulnerable thing,” McKinley noted. She described this situation as, “deflating and a bummer,” especially if a person in need of help decided when they got a call back in two months, they no longer wanted assistance because the window of courage was gone.

A waitlist of up to ten was the usual with just one intern, but now Ellie Jorgensen and Hannah McKinney will be able to see clients and do outreach without accumulating a lengthy waitlist. The fact that this list was so continuous goes to show the need the community has for mental health services. “I think the demand is getting greater, which is amazing. That means that people are seeking out help when they need it and we’re glad we can have more interns to see people,” McKinney said.

Meeting that need for all is supplemented by a sliding price scale based on income. This is WIA’s biggest draw according to McKinley, who provides the going rate for counseling services as $135-$150 per session. WIA can offer sessions at $5-$30, depending on salary. “Because there have been a lack of resources for low cost, that’s been the biggest draw. We are able to offer low cost counseling services, and as far as I know there are no other options up there,” McKinley informed.

The internship program is part of the second year of the graduate counseling program at MSU. “When students enter into our counseling program, they have to choose a track they are interested in,” McKinley explained. Afterwards, students are placed with an internship based on interest and fit. Once placed the interns are supervised by licensed counselors and have weekly meetings with mentors and professors. The two year program goes through summers and is, “fast and furious and very busy,” McKinley expressed. Graduating with a counseling degree is not the final step, however. A specific amount of hours working in the job is required before students receive their counseling license.

Jorgensen chose the marriage and family counseling track. “I am very passionate about working with children and their mental well-being and emotional well-being, and that marriage and family track was the way for me to work with children,” she explained. Before, Jorgensen worked with children in Big Sky providing home visits for families of children with special needs. McKinney chose the mental health track, as working one on one with individual adults felt like the right path for her. “There’s a lot of opportunity for our own growth and our own creativity within the job, and a lot of support for that as well,” she said, praising WIA and the MSU program for the freedom it provides the interns to use all the skills they have accumulated.

Both women were interested in working in Big Sky for reasons that speak to the character of the town. “It is a unique community. It is more rural and the income disparity is something to be said. It kind of creates some unique issues that people bring into counseling,” McKinley provided.

“I think the thing that is so appealing to me in the rural sense of the community is that what I have found in Montana is it’s not so much of a community as everybody just becomes a family, for the good and the bad,” Jorgensen added. It is the small town problem in a nutshell: your neighbors may know your secrets, but also where your spare key is for when you lock yourself out of your house. “Small communities are a system,” McKinney supplemented, and the way systems work together here is drastically different from the way they operate in New York City, or Bozeman for that matter. Big Sky has the luxury of being a strong community with an expanding population in a quaint, small-town kind of way.

Jorgensen and McKinney will graduate with their master’s degrees in May 2020. They contemplated the idea of doing their internship project accessing the demand for more counseling services in Big Sky. What holes need filled? What services are not being provided and need to be? They look forward to learning more about this community and are energized by the idea of making an impact.

Schedule appointments with Jorgensen and McKinney at 406.570.3907

The 24 hour help center line can be reached at 406.596.9333

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