Psychological Counseling Services (Psych Services) is becoming more prominent on campus. According to the Psychological Counseling Data 2012-13, 27 percent of the student body sought counseling at Psych Services and 47 percent of the Class of 2013 used Psych Services at some point during their time at the College. The class breakdown of the 571 students seeking psychological counseling services last year is fairly even, with 29 percent seniors, 24 percent juniors, 27 percent sophomores and 19 percent first-years. These students came to Psych Services with a variety of concerns and utilized anywhere from one to over 30 sessions.
There has been a significant increase in the number of students using Psych Services in the past eight years. In 2005-06, Psych Services counseled 13 percent of the student body, and it has been steadily rising since then (18 percent in 2009-10; 21 percent in 2010-11; 26 percent in 2011-12). While the staff at Psych Services thinks that they may be reaching a plateau because of the small increase from two years ago to last year, it is obvious that Psych Services has become a large presence on campus.
“Our numbers reflect the national trends in college mental health, the rise in prevalence and to some degree, severity and complexity, of mental health concerns among college students,” Margaret Wood, co-director of Psych Services and staff therapist said.
“The increase in numbers of students using [Psych Services] also reflects a decrease in stigma across our campus because of the tremendous work many have done to change the campus culture and break the silence about mental health issues and emotional vulnerabilities,” Wood said.
This increase in use of Psych Services also exposed some weaknesses. In 2012 to meet demand for individual counseling services, Psych Services shortened sessions from one hour to 45 minutes throughout the year to avoid a waiting list. “Our goal has been to do everything possible to respond to all students’ mental health needs in a timely way,” Wood said. “It can take courage to make that first step of acknowledging and confronting a problem by making an appointment with [Psych Services], and we didn’t want any student to do that only to end up on a waiting list. We also wanted to avoid having a waiting list because we didn’t want any students with urgent needs to fall through the cracks.”
This year, however, Psych Services switched back to hour-long therapy sessions for students. “Our statistics showed that how students used therapy sessions was no different either shortened or the traditional length, [but] some aspects of therapy aren’t easily measured, and the staff felt that the shorter session length did indeed affect the work,” Wood said. The Psych Services staff is confident that this change will not lead to a waiting list for counseling. “[The College] has always been very supportive of Counseling Services, including often authorizing the funding for added clinicians’ hours.” Wood said. “We will be looking at all the options available and will be working on solutions, other than a policy of permanently institutionalizing shortened sessions, to meet the clinical demand.”
In addition to therapy sessions, Psych Services continues to offer Let’s Talk, a walk-in service started in February of 2010. Let’s Talk is an informal opportunity for students to speak with professionally-trained graduate students doing internships with the College. During this semester, the program will be expanded to run four days each week, instead of just three.
“We’re always trying to assess our services and make them as relevant as possible to students’ lives, and Let’s Talk comes out of that effort,” Wood said. “Let’s Talk is a way to stay on your own turf and still see what talking with a counselor is like.”
Another walk-in service was inaugurated at the Athletic Department. Psychotherapist Paul Gitterman will be available for informal consultations on Tuesday afternoons to discuss sports psychology concerns such as performance improvement, pre-race/game anxieties, training motivation and recovering from an injury.
Additionally, a therapy dog will be brought every other Friday by the Health Center in conjunction with Peer Health as an informal means of stress relief. This specially trained golden retriever, Maestro, will be available for students to interact with in Paresky 212 or outside when weather permits.
Psych Services is also offering a psychotherapy group experience focused on relationships which will continue this semester. “Improving Relationships Group” provides an opportunity to improve relationships (such as family, romantic, social, etc.) by understanding one’s self and others, facilitated by Gitterman and Rachael Honig, psychological counseling intern.
Due to the success of the first psychotherapy group, this semester Psych Services is also offering another weekly psychotherapy group “Mindful Living – An anxiety and stress reduction skills group.” This group is directed at students who want to learn how to feel less stressed, more focused and able to take challenges in stride, facilitated by Karen Theiling, staff therapist, and Julia Gottlieb, psychological counseling intern. “The important thing to realize is that group therapy is a primary modality in that it is as effective as individual therapy and in some cases even more effective, especially for college students,” Gitterman said.
In addition to Psych Services programs, a variety of student organizations are working toward mental health awareness and help on campus. “A few things we’re looking forward to in particular are a poster campaign on how to fight stress and offering student-led fitness classes [at more convenient times],” Amanda Walker ’15, co-chair of Peer Health, said of her organization’s outreach efforts. Active Minds will also focus its efforts on providing week-long events known as “Break the Silence” and “Take Care of Yourself” weeks help students de-stress and increase mental health awareness.