For some people, "psychotherapy" conjures up images of endless hourslying on a couch while an analyst asks about dreams and childhood.

Sheppard-Pratt Counseling Centers are hoping to change that image at its new Counseling and Therapy Center near Bel Air, where it offershelp coping with a variety of stresses, from anxiety over loved onesin the Persian Gulf to alcohol and chemical abuse.

"Therapy has a different meaning for different people," said Yeshitila Araya, the licensed clinical social worker who directs the new center. "It used to be thought of as something only available to the affluent or that it meant being institutionalized. Treatment approaches have changed."

At the new counseling center at 2105 Laurel BushRoad, not a couch can be found. Instead there are comfortable chairs, airy, bright rooms and two part-time psychiatrists who -- along with Araya -- see patients.

Araya has spent the last several months making contacts in Harford County, trying to see what kinds of services are needed most and letting other agencies know the service is available.

"We are pleased to come into this community," said Araya, adding that Sheppard-Pratt Counseling Centers already exist in Towson and Owings Mills. "Our aim is to complement the existing services in the community. We want to be a part of the community."

Araya said Sheppard-Pratt purchased the private practice of family physician Dr.Robert M. Ollodart of Bel Air when he died two years ago.

The services could not be expanded at those offices, so Sheppard-Pratt movedthe center to its new site in December.

Araya said that since he started working on the center, he has met many patients who needed counseling or therapy in the past but were forced to go outside HarfordCounty because the therapy was unavailable in Harford.

"Now we can bring the services to their doorstep," said Araya, who has a master's degree in social work from Michigan State University and a master's degree in administration science from Johns Hopkins University. He earned his undergraduate degree in Ethiopia.

He said that because there has been a stigma associated with psychotherapy for many years,county residents may have felt uncomfortable going outside their community to get help.

To help foster community goodwill, Araya said the counseling center will have a meeting room available for supoportgroups such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

Araya said that although thecounseling center will have the expertise and reputation of the Sheppard-Pratt Health System behind it, it will not offer a carbon copy of Sheppart-Pratt therapy services.

"The kinds of services we offerwill be closely tied to the need in the community," he said. "That'swhy we are visiting school psychologists and private-practice psychiatrists to see what the need is, rather than duplicate srvices."

Some of the kinds of problems the center expects to treat include eating disorders, stress and anxiety disorders and depression.

Specialprograms dealing with stress in children and adolescents will be added if needed.

Even though psychotherapy is no longer a privilege afforded only to the rich, the cost can really stack up if not fully covered by medical insurance.

Araya said he expects to have some funds to help families who need treatment but who may not be able to pay for it on their own.

"Sheppart-Pratt is making a commitment to this clinic. It's got to be a give-and-take process, not just to make money," he said.

A one-hour session with a psychiatrist costs $100; a session with a social worker is $80.

Araya said additional psychiatrists and social workers will be added to the counseling center staff as the need for them arises.

He said he would like to hire some staff from within the county.

"There is an added advantage to hiring people from the community because they know it and know what might help people here the most."

An open house at the new center is being planned for some time in April, he said.

Information: 569-4900.

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