James Garofalo’s first exposure to counseling was helping fellow soldiers who were returning from a yearlong deployment in Iraq.
“My unit had, just by pure randomness, selected me to attend a two-day, very brief, very introductory training course on working with guys who are coming back struggling with substance abuse and/or family issues,” he said. “I was kind of ‘voluntold’ to go work with this group, and at first I was kind of resistant, but once I got into it; I just fell in love with it.
“So, I got out and did my schooling and just sort of dove into the mental and behavioral health field.”
The Erie, Pa., native was stationed at Fort Carson in 2007, where he served four years on active duty, including a one-year deployment to Iraq in 2008.
The former infantryman stayed in Colorado Springs because “I met my wife out here and just fell in love with Colorado like everybody else does,” he said.
Garofalo has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Colorado Technical University and a master’s in sociology from UCCS.
Last summer, he founded ViewPoints Psychotherapy Services LLC on East La Salle Street.
The practice offers one-on-one psychotherapy sessions, psychological testing/evaluations and aptitude/vocational testing and evaluations.
Garofalo spoke with the Business Journal this week about running his own practice and how his military service helps him relate to patients.
Why did you pursue becoming a clinician?
I think a lot of people see me as just a clinician, but really my passion is creating a space for other clinicians. Right now, ViewPoints Psychotherapy has a team of about six clinicians, all kind of bringing a different dynamic and a different experience and different specialization to the field. And really, it’s creating a space where clinicians can have the freedom to dictate certain things — like the ability to designate their own caseload and designate their own hours — and then have that rub off directly onto the clients. So the clients are getting a higher quality of care and satisfaction. I would say clients’ satisfaction starts with clinicians’ satisfaction — that is kind of our motto. And that’s my passion. I do see a handful of clients, mostly trauma and addiction work, but my true love is creating a space for other clinicians to come on board to provide exceptional services to the folks in our community.
What’s a challenge mental health providers currently face?
I think the biggest challenge right now, not just for ViewPoints, but for the mental and behavioral health field, is the stigma around it. Being a veteran, mental health was definitely stigmatized in the military. And even to this day, I work with a lot of both active duty service members and veterans, who say there is still a stigma around it. And that’s really not just in the military community, but just around mental health in general. I’m hopeful that we’re starting to see a change in that. I think health care is becoming more holistic, more integrative, but at the same time, I don’t think we’re quite where it needs to be.
How does your military background translate to running a practice?
I think it makes me a little more approachable — to kind of share that relationship with the veterans I work with. That’s valuable because when I was in [the military], it was always sort of you were damned if you do and damned if you didn’t get treatment. If you did, you were kind of scrutinized to some degree. And if you did not, then you had to tackle some of the obstacles with that. And so, in terms of veterans, I think it helps to make things a little more approachable for them here.
Do you ever have issues with insurance companies and reimbursement for services?
Right now we are officially accepting Tricare, Cigna and Medicaid, and as we move towards mid-summer, we will be looking at some of the others like Medicare, Humana, Aetna. The goal is to be able to be as accessible and affordable to our incoming clients as possible. But one of the biggest obstacles to navigate around right now — that is industry-specific — is the insurance piece. It’s very [time-consuming] to get credentialed with insurance companies. They make it sort of a challenge to meet some of their requirements. I can definitely see why a lot of folks try to shy away from taking insurance. But for us at ViewPoints, that would mean having to turn away a lot of clients, I think, who can’t afford it otherwise. And so if that means a little extra work on our end, I think it’s well worth it because we can open the door for a lot more folks who need our services.
What sets ViewPoints apart from other practices?
The vision of ViewPoints Psychotherapy is to operate as a hub or sort of an umbrella for other clinicians in the community to come on board. And what I mean by that is all the clinicians that come in, it gives them the freedom to dictate their own caseload and set their own schedule. Right now we have some clinicians who see just a couple of clients a week because they have other stuff going on, and that’s important for them. And then we have other clinicians who see clients up to 30 times a week, because that’s maybe where they’re comfortable working. Having that flexibility is extremely important in this field because myself as well as some of my colleagues, we’ve been in environments in the past where it’s been back-to-back-to-back clients, and that impacts you.
When you are going on 5 to 6 o’clock in the evening and you’ve been seeing back-to-back clients all day, it can definitely have a profound impact on the work you do. By being able to dictate those things and having that freedom, it’s really beneficial, and it allows for us to provide a higher quality of services to our clients. In addition to that, we also co-locate at a handful of primary care clinics around the Springs.
I think, in terms of health care in our country, we’re starting to see more and more medical providers recognize the importance of integrative health care — the whole mind and body sort of thing. So if a medical doctor in a family practice or whatever has a need for a clinician to be on-site, we’re able to provide that. It allows them not to have to refer patients outwards because sometimes when you refer outwards, there are wait lists. And clients can sometimes feel like they’re getting sent around and forgotten.
Why is it important for a community to have mental health providers?
Sometimes it can literally be a life or death sort of thing when someone needs help. I think the sad truth is, a lot of times, the folks that come in our door really could have benefited by coming in years ago. Some of that is just their personal decision, but other times, that’s just the system or the field. There’s sort of a scarcity of mental health professionals, and that causes a delay in services.
Why start your own practice?
For the first couple years I practiced at other clinics and I worked alongside some great practitioners and some great clinicians, but eventually I started to spot a lot of flaws. And those flaws gradually became deal breakers because what I was noticing was, there seemed to be a sort of a quantity over quality and effort to turn a profit. That wasn’t necessarily OK with me. My vision for ViewPoints was a creative space, where people love working and then have that energy to innovate and to create and to strategize and to treat clients.
What are some obstacles you’ve faced since opening last year?
I mean, with any startup there are constant obstacles. There are constant barriers to overcome and industry specific. I would say insurance, there’s always a hurdle there. But other than that, I think it’s just remaining resilient and focused — keeping your eyes on what you’re doing and being passionate about what you’re doing, because that makes it so much easier.
Why do you think a lot of veterans open their own businesses?
I think leadership comes into it — that’s a huge part for me. I love the leadership component of running a business and having a presence in the community. I would imagine that the same thing goes for other veterans. You obtain a sense of leadership in the military that you can’t really gain in other places, and if I had to guess, that probably ties into it.
What advice do you have for other young professionals?
It would be to find a field that you’re passionate about. When that happens, everything else just falls into place. You won’t be looking forward to the weekend any longer or 5 o’clock so the day is over. You will enjoy going to work everyday.
How do you spend your spare time?
I love physical fitness. I like to do intense workouts almost daily. I also enjoy painting and have an artistic side. I really love spending time with my family. I have a 5-year-old son who keeps me very busy and my wife and I are addicted to traveling. The last place we went was Nepal, and we’re going to be heading to Thailand in the spring.