Addressing the IWS name change: Integrative wellbeing and “thriving” at the College

Names matter. At the beginning of the academic year, we each came back to campus and discovered that the name of Psychological Counseling Services had been confusingly changed to “Integrative Wellbeing Services” (IWS). Every time someone brought up IWS this semester, someone else in the room raised a hand and asked, “What’s IWS? Is that the Health Center? Is this a new resource on campus?”

We recognize that the name change was probably intended to make mental health services seem more accessible to all students; however, it inadvertently reinforces the stigma around mental health and creates yet another barrier to accessing mental healthcare for some on campus. Seeking out mental health services already carries stigma. Why further stigmatize mental health by making it seem like the College cannot use the name “Psych Services”?

In addition to adding – rather than removing – stigma, the name change obscures what Psych Services actually does. Frankly, “Integrative Wellbeing Services” just sounds like a string of buzzwords. What does it actually mean? For first-year students, navigating the resources that the College has to offer is already hard enough. Why make it even harder by attaching a confusing and vague name to what should be easily communicated and accessible? Especially given how poorly the name change was advertised, first-year students are likely to have to rely on Junior Advisors (JAs) to tell them what IWS is, and they may be forced to divulge information about their personal situation to gain information about and access to the resources they need. Some first-years (or students of any class year) may not feel comfortable talking to anyone about accessing mental healthcare. Students without JAs are left in even further limbo when there are fewer people on campus who can point them in the right direction or demystify the meaning of IWS.

IWS comes across as a rebranding rather than a restructuring of Psych Services, and this rebranding is not only ineffective but also potentially harmful to attitudes concerning mental health on campus. The “What Is Integrative Wellbeing?” page on the Health Center website uses variations of the word “thrive” 10 times in a single page. Shifting the paradigm “from surviving college to thriving throughout and beyond it,” as the IWS website claims to do, assumes that Williams students are already at a certain baseline of mental health.

The same goes for the new slogan for IWS: “So all of YOU and ALL can Thrive.” Such a slogan and mindset erases the experiences of many students on campus who might not be thriving and perhaps are barely surviving at Williams, day by day, particularly those who arrive at the College already dealing with mental illness or trauma. Everyone at Williams can thrive given the right space; however, for some students at the College, having that “right space” is not yet possible due to obstacles related to race, class, gender, sexuality, nationality, ability and other structural oppressions. The slogan and message of the new IWS does not seem to recognize such barriers experienced by those who are not part of the student body majority. This calls into question who IWS aims to serve.

The name change, while minor, significantly impacts the experiences and lives of students on campus and may reflect a broader problem with how those who govern the school relate to students on campus. It was made without asking the wider student body for input on how to improve support and services, and this neglect is not lost on students. Merely changing the name of Psych Services won’t decrease stigma around the issue of seeking mental health treatment, but doing work to uproot the deep-seated stereotypes, misinformation and perceptions will.

While we are writing about the name change, the issue is much more systemic. Students have long made demands and suggestions as to how Psych Services can be improved to better help and serve students and the College community as a whole. Students have pointed out again and again the lack of full-time therapists of color, yet IWS continues to hire interns instead. While the interns provide much-needed therapy for students on campus, some have little training, which can cause significant strain on the interns. Rather than hire a full-time therapist of color, IWS has opted for superficial changes that have the mere appearance of progress. In addition, one of the biggest changes has been the increased group programming. While offering several group therapy sessions each day of the week makes it look like the College prioritizes the mental health of its students, it isn’t the most effective use of time. Often, no one shows up to the group therapy sessions. (If someone is hesitant to go to individual therapy, how likely is it that they will go to group therapy where they have no idea who might show up?) Therapists could be using that time to see students individually instead.

Names matter. The name change of Psych Services to IWS is just one example of the disconnect between the administration and the student body. In order to effectively transform mental health services, Williams must actively seek out student input and determine what types of changes would best meet the needs of the student body.

Ayami Hatanaka ’18 is a Political Science and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies double major from Honolulu, HI.  Sarah Fleming ’17.5 is a Math major from Brookline, Mass.