Valley Cities in Federal Way brings hope to those battling depression

When Brian Allender, the chief medical officer at Valley Cities Counseling, meets with patients he will often tell them that depression loves itself.

When Brian Allender, the chief medical officer at Valley Cities Counseling, meets with patients he will often tell them that depression loves itself.

“It causes changes in your brain that lead to changes in the way you think and the way you behave that perpetuate the cycle of depression,” Allender said. “It can be a very difficult thing to get out of that cycle.”

Allender said the team of specialists at Valley Cities Counseling, with six outpatient sites including Federal Way, provides multi-disciplinary care and a holistic approach to battling chronic depression that includes a gamut of services from finding new employment, getting back into an apartment or home, substance abuse treatment, military veterans and one-on-one counseling for all age ranges.

“We really try to be client focused, with the client really directing things and taking advantage of any services we offer,” Allender explained.

Liberty Knerr, the Federal Way site director, said the main driver at Valley Cities Counseling is “finding ways in helping people find hope.”

“We have a whole team of folks in specialty areas,” Knerr said. “By bringing all those team members together we can bring people back to a better life.”

Valley Cities Counseling was incorporated as a nonprofit in August 1964. It is a Better Business Bureau accredited charity. The nonprofit’s funding support is derived from grants and larger sources, such as King County and United Way.

“One of the things that donors are concerned with is where the money goes when they donate to charitable organizations,” said Lind Simonsen, Valley Cities’ development director. “Ninety percent of our income goes directly to providing services.”

In December, Simonsen launched the Hope Wanted direct-mail campaign. The campaign made a call for donations to go directly to helping individuals unable to afford mental healthcare and other basic needs like housing and employment services.

At press time, Simonsen said the campaign was still going strong.

“We’re still getting letters in,” he said.

Simonsen stressed that the direct-mail campaign is not solely focused on raising money.

“It’s about raising awareness and lowering the stigma of mental health patients,” he said.

In the United States, depression is very prevalent. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 9 percent of adults at some point in their life have feelings of guilt, despondency and hopelessness, which can lead to a diagnosis of depression. Furthermore, about 3 percent of adults suffer from major depressive disorder, which is a severe form of depression, and the Centers for Disease Control considers major depression to be the leading cause of disability for Americans ages 15 to 44.

Simonsen said Valley Cities Counseling specializes in serving patients who are low-income. An option for low-income individuals is Apple Health, which is Washington state’s Medicaid program.

Those individuals and families on Apple Health, Simonsen said, will have no-out-of-pocket expenses on counseling services provided by Valley Cities.

If an individual or family needs help in applying for Apple Health, Valley Cities has qualified in-person assisters to register people. Open enrollment is through Feb. 15. In-person assisters can be contacted at 206-212-4031.

Knerr said individuals can make an appointment to visit an outpatient site or they’re welcome to drop in.

“We will build a personalized team around them based on their needs,” Knerr said.

Allender said the Valley Cities Counseling team prides itself on best practices and evidence-based practices and trying to get the latest and greatest treatment.

“We do an assessment of where people are at in terms of recovery and different types of treatment can be indicated dependent on what stage they’re at,” Allender explained.

Knerr and Simonsen said that often times an individual may come in who has just lost their home or who lost their job, all because of the depression they’re dealing with.

A care coordinator, explained Knerr, will determine what basic necessities need to be met, whether that’s housing or employment or both.

Knerr said that individuals treating depression can also be paired with a certified peer specialist. These peer specialists are those who have also battled depression and have gone through treatment successfully.

One contributing factor to depression, Allender said, can be chronic health problems like diabetes and heart disease. For this, Valley Cities has a partnership with Healthpoint, where they refer patients who may need medical treatment.

Allender said that the most proven treatments for depression are medication and counseling.

“Apart from that is leading a healthy lifestyle, like keeping a regular sleep cycle, and a healthy diet,” Allender said.

Another approach to consider is making sure you have a supportive community of friends and family.

“Family members can educate themselves about depression,” Allender said. “There is a lot of great information that people can find to understand what depression is and how it’s really not the person’s fault that they’re acting this way.”

He said family and friends can also be that motivator to encourage their loved one to make their appointments and continue treatment.

Allender said what he does is very fulfilling because the treatment works.

“We can do things that really help people recover and help them have a life that they can enjoy and that they want to live a life worth living,” Allender said. “Changes can be really hard but it’s always possible and there is always hope.”

If you go

The Federal Way site is located at 33301 First Way S., Ste. C-115. New clients can call at 253-939-4055 before 2 p.m. for a same day or next day appointment. More information about Valley Cities Counseling is available at