Psych counseling to maintain staff numbers amid cuts

When 12 or 15 percent budget cuts across all departments are solidified in April, Psychological Counseling Services (PCS) will not make any staff cuts or reductions in the number of sessions offered, according to Ruth Harrison, director of the Health Services. Currently there are nine people working at PCS, all of whom work part-time.

“Colleges and universities cannot ignore the complex situations that require sophisticated networking and collaboration across many institutional offices, deans, staff, faculty and [students],” said Margi Wood, co-director of PCS.

Wood said that it is important to consider financial struggles in the context of what has come to be known in recent years as “the crisis in college mental health.” Wood emphasized that both the demand for psychological counseling among college students and the severity of their problems have increased over the last few years, so it would be “short-sighted” to consider counseling a luxury.
According to Wood, 40 percent of any given graduating class at the College will have used the PCS at least once in their time at the College.

Cuts in counseling budgets will be comparable to cuts in other student services, said Dr. John Miner, co-director of PCS. He explained that the provision of counseling services is estimated depending on the number of students seeking services, the number of counseling staff and the number of sessions used by each student.

Some schools, especially larger ones, choose to cut the easiest to change: the number of sessions. “We have no plans to limit the number of sessions a student can be seen and will continue to leave that up to the student and their counselor,” Miner said.

Harrison, Wood and Miner agree that College administration has been supportive of PCS. While the budget cuts to all student service groups will also apply to PCS, all three confirmed that there will be no reduction in staff employed or sessions offered.

Based on the numbers thus far, Miner and Wood have not noticed an increase in student demand for PCS. However, Wood said, “Although the numbers are basically the same, I think we are definitely noticing the far-reaching influence of the economy.” She added that students at the College might be insulated in the “purple bubble,” but their relatives are not and the PCS staff is well aware of the undercurrents of the crisis in students’ lives.

Moreover, she said students are anxious about postgraduate life because the financial crisis takes control away from the individual. Students’ efforts, including obtaining a Williams degree, “may not mean the same in these times,” she said.

“It is often the case that feelings about difficult times and/or difficult situations tend to bubble to the surface for some time after the crisis has passed,” Miner said. He gave an example with the increase in mental health needs of the people of New Orleans in the past couple of years after the impacts of the tragedy had already sunk in.

“Therefore, I would expect that we will be hearing and seeing more of the impact of these difficult times for some time to come,” he said.