MILWAUKEE — Sometimes the commitment and sacrifice to become a licensed therapist can push aspiring professionals away from a field that already has a shortage of workers.
Children's Wisconsin launched its Therapist Fellowship Program, which eases that challenge while also reaching the growing number of kids who need help.
For Jessica Kotsakis, becoming a licensed therapist was unrealistic given the necessary demands. Typically, after college clinicians need 3,000 hours of training and often those hours are unpaid.
"As a full-time individual who had a family at home to support, it's not a reasonable option to pursue those hours, nights, and weekends in an unpaid setting," Kotsakis said.
When Kotsakis heard about the fellowship program, she jumped at the chance.
Children's Wisconsin uses donations to pay supervised trainees a salary and offer benefits while they serve kids and families. It helps trainees get their hours faster and adds to the workforce.
Kotsakis said it has made all the difference in her career path.
"I don't know that I have an adjective. It's incredible. It's amazing. It's wonderful. It's enlightening. It's hopeful," Kotsakis beamed.
Since it started over two years ago, Children's Wisconsin reported eight therapists have completed the program. Currently, 15 trainees are enrolled.
According to the Wisconsin Office of Children's Mental Health, in 2019 Wisconsin had an average of 490 people served by one mental health provider in a county. Nationally, the top state had a ratio of 290 to one.
"Absolutely, I believe we've made a huge difference," said Shanna Sullivan, clinical supervisor for the Therapist Fellowship Program. "During the course of our program, we've been able to help over 1,250 families, and we provided over 15,000 therapy sessions for families that would not have been there before."
Mindi Sabljak said the program has helped her eight-year-old daughter Mariska who started struggling with worsening anxiety over the summer. Sabljak explained that the fellowship program helped cut the wait time for mental health resources tremendously, and when Sabljak started seeing Kotsakis for help, Sabljak noticed the difference.
"She's doing awesome. She's so much more confident. Jessie did a lot of like breathing techniques with her. Affirmations are probably my favorite one, like talking about how great you are to yourself, because you are that great," Mindi said.
The fellowship's ultimate goal is to support and train at least 35 therapists by 2024.