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An Interview with Richard Shulman, Ph.D. about Volunteers In Psychotherapy (VIP)

David Van Nuys, Ph.D. Updated: Mar 3rd 2008

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Richard Shulman, Ph.D. co-founder of Volunteers in PsychotherapyDr. Van Nuys talks with Dr. Richard Shulman about his non-profit organization Volunteers in Psychotherapy.

There are generally only two ways that people can have access to psychotherapy. They can pay for it entirely out of pocket, or they can access it in the context of insurance or managed care. Few people can afford to pay for therapy out of pocket. Therapy paid for by insurance or managed care is more accessible, but only at the cost of privacy and self-determination. The insurance company gets access to regular reports on what is happening inside therapy, and also may arbitrarily limit the duration of therapy or attach conditions which if not followed result in the termination of therapy. Volunteers in Psychotherapy is a Hartford, Connecticut based non-profit organization which offers people a third way to access psychotherapy: by volunteering for it.

Volunteers in Psychotherapy provides clients access to truly private psychotherapy free from the influence of managed care or insurance, in exchange for their agreeing to volunteer their time with organizations such as non-profits, and charitable and governmental agencies (including homeless, hospice, hospital, ambulance, and fire services) that benefit the community. Clients must volunteer four hours of their time for every hour of psychotherapy they are eligible to receive. They get a record of their participation and then give a copy of that record to VIP which awards them therapy credits.

Apart from the need to invest the time volunteering, psychotherapy itself is presented free of charge, or for a very low fee. Though therapists are not paid by VIP clients directly, they are not working for free. Instead, therapists receive a low negotiated rate from VIP which pays for therapists' services using funds they have raised or received from philanthropic organizations. There is no income test required to qualify for VIP services. Anyone who is willing to do the volunteer work necessary to qualify for VIP therapy can gain access to VIP therapy.

In addition to offering a psychotherapy that is free of charge or inexpensive and truly private, VIP also offers a psychotherapy which does not require people to be diseased in order to qualify. Psychotherapy which is paid for by insurance companies operates according to a medical model wherein people must be ill before they are entitled to have a treatment. This logic works halfway well when people are dealing with severe mental problems like Major Depression or Bipolar Disorder, but very poorly when people are dealing with more subtle life problems like grief or reactions to traumatic incidents or abuse. There is no illness test VIP requires in order to gain access to psychotherapy. Being willing to do the volunteer work required and desiring therapy are enough to get you therapy.

Largely in order to preserve the primacy of privacy within VIP-sponsored therapy, VIP services are limited to psychotherapy only. Patients who have medication needs must coordinate them separately. Patients who have need of a therapist who will coordinate with the court system (or any other third party) need to find therapy arrangements elsewhere.

In addition to the benefits derived from private, self-determined psychotherapy, patients who receive therapy through VIP also likely benefit from their action of doing volunteer work. Research from within the positive psychology movement does suggest that the act of helping others tends to promote self-healing. VIP psychotherapy patients themselves have reported that the act of volunteering contributes to their self-esteem. They feel like they are earning their therapy in a manner they can afford, and are happy to not be getting a handout.

Links Relevant To This Podcast:

  • Essays by Dr. Shulman and news articles describing Volunteers in Psychotherapy, its functioning and rationale, are available on the VIP website:
  • People who wish to donate money to VIP to help fund their work can do so through this donor page on their website.
  • Dr. Van Nuys recommends the book Why Good Things Happen to Good People which describes recent research showing why giving activities like volunteering are good for mental health

About Richard Shulman, Ph.D.

Richard Shulman, Ph.D.

Richard Shulman, Ph.D. completed his doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology at the University of Toledo after having graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Wesleyan University and then attending the University of Michigan. He is currently the Director of the nonprofit organization, Volunteers in Psychotherapy (VIP). As a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, he founded VIP together with three other psychologists and two nonprofit specialists. Volunteers in Psychotherapy, Inc. provides psychotherapy that is truly private, in exchange for volunteer work that clients donate elsewhere to the community charity of their choice. VIP is a nonprofit alternative to the loss of client privacy and control experienced under managed care.

Dr. Shulman helped to create VIP after roughly a decade's work at Hartford Hospital - Institute of Living, where he had provided psychotherapy to Hartford's poor or uninsured population and had supervised and trained therapists at the outpatient clinic. He continues to serve, now as a volunteer, on the Institutional Review Board of Hartford Hospital - Institute of Living, which oversees ethical and informed consent issues in psychiatric and medical research. He had completed the Greater Hartford Clinical Psychology Internship Consortium, including Hartford Hospital, University of Connecticut Health Center, Newington Veteran's Administration Hospital and Capitol Region Mental Health Center.

He previously worked at the Children's Outpatient program of Wheeler Clinic, and served as Psychological Consultant to Nutmeg Big Brothers - Big Sisters. He had delayed graduate school for one year to serve as a Community Service Volunteer, working with troubled boys in a Dr. Barnardo's school south of London.

Dr. Shulman can be reached at:

Volunteers in Psychotherapy, Inc.
7 South Main Street
West Hartford, CT 06107
(860) 233-5115


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