For many students, the Counseling and Psychological Services center has been a go-to resource for assistance with issues they’re facing on campus, but for some it has been more of a source of stress than relief.
Many students have raised concerns about the long waiting time for a scheduled appointment, long entrance assessments — or informational forms — and talk of only being able to meet with a specific counselor three times.
CAPS officials said they are aware of these concerns and misconceptions and are working toward improving them by renovating the center, hiring more counselors and creating a new database of community providers.
Todd Sevig, CAPS’s director, said CAPS is taking on a new approach to helping student mental health issues by thinking in a more campus-wide and community connection mindset.
“No one entity on campus is going to be able at any one moment to address every need for every student in the year,” he said. “So the new database will really help in that regard.”
The community providers database, which is expected to go live on Monday, will allow students to look up a provider that fits their needs, has current openings, takes their insurance and is within walking distance.
“It’s a little different than a typical database or obviously looking in a phone book,” Sevig said. “It’s all geared toward student life.”
As part of the renovation, four new offices in the center are expected to be completed by the end of the week and appointments there are scheduled for as early as next week.
Sevig said the increased space and staff to fill the rooms is the “most concrete way” the center is addressing the student concerns.
An LSA senior, who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitive nature of the issue, wrote in an e-mail interview about difficulties scheduling an appointment through CAPS and issues with the computer assessments students take when first entering CAPS.
“After taking this assessment, students have to wait a few weeks to even see someone about whatever they’re dealing with,” the student wrote in the e-mail. “I have some serious problems that I quite honestly need someone professional to talk about.“
“I know I’m not the only one in this university who could use someone to talk to about the shit going on in their lives,” the student added.
The student’s longest wait time for an appointment was two weeks and a few days, which the student said was “quite a long time.”
Sevig said CAPS is as concerned about the extended waiting period as students are.
“We don’t like it when the wait stretches either,” he said. “What’s hard from an administrative point of view is that there is no one magic wait period that is accepted by every student so we literally make 3,000 individual decisions for what’s best for each of those students.”
Vicki Hays, CAPS’s associate director, said students who go to CAPS have the option to see a counselor on duty, who students can choose to see from the very first time they come in or whenever they feel it necessary.
She added that the counselor on duty is available from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day, and sometimes there are two on duty.
Sevig said CAPS chose to have the counselor on duty option available every hour the center is open whereas many counseling centers at other universities only have the option available for a few hours.
“Students do have that choice,” he said. “But the reality is that sometimes waiting for that scheduled appointment is a perfect fit for students. There are multiple ways that people get in and we work with every individual student to make something happen.”
Hays said CAPS is busiest in the fall semester because there is an increase in students coming to the center and officials are busy organizing training programs.
From Sept. 1 to Oct. 23 there had been 747 first appointments scheduled at the rate of about 93 per week, 75 psychiatric evaluations scheduled, 240 counselor on duty contacts at an average of about 30 per week, and 69 students seen for pre-support group interviews. Many groups are already up and running.
Hays said that on average CAPS sees around 3,000 students a year.
Sevig said officials are doing everything they can to accommodate students’ needs and shorten the wait time, but the center is maxed out in terms of space, which is why he is looking forward to the completion of the new offices.
“We’re trying to increase our capacity to see more students more quickly,” he said.
Sevig added that the assessment students need to fill out on their first visit to CAPS takes about 7 to 10 minutes and is similar to paperwork that is required at other health care offices.
“All health care units need some information ahead of time,” he said. “We have not forced students to be short or to be long. We leave it up to each student to let us know as much or as little as they want.”
Music, Theatre & Dance sophomore Rachael Albert wrote in an e-mail interview that she went to CAPS after being convinced by a close friend that it would be helpful for her sometime before Thanksgiving last year. She didn’t get an appointment until Dec. 8.
She said the meeting she had was very superficial and didn’t really address her concerns.
Albert added that at the conclusion of her session her counselor told her that CAPS was busier than ever and that it seemed as if she has worked out all her issues and therefore it wasn’t necessary to make another appointment, though she could if she wanted to.
“It was entirely inappropriate and left me feeling like crap because it took so much willpower for me to decide to go in the first place and I was shut down,” she wrote. “I honestly felt worse leaving than I did going.”
CAPS’s 2007-2008 annual report says that in the year 2000-01, CAPS provided services for 1,914 students compared to 3,032 students in 2007-08, representing a 58-percent increase in that time.
“We want to be able to meet all these needs but the connection is that no one entity is able to meet all of those needs all of the time for all students,” Sevig said.
The student who wished to remain anonymous wrote in the e-mail that from personal experience, students can only see one counselor for three sessions before they are scheduled with another.
“Three sessions aren’t enough to help resolve much of anything,” the student said. “Of course the student can come back, but they get placed with a new CAPS employee and they have to start explaining their problems all over again.”
“That’s more stressful than anything,” she added. “It’s frustrating and exhausting.”
Sevig said that this is not CAPS’s policy.
“We would never do that because that’s not how health care works,” he said. “We have a service decision that takes each case on its own instead of a one-policy-fits-all and I think that in the end is better health care for college students.”
Hays said that at many similar colleges, students are limited to only 12 visits to the counseling center in the entire four years they are enrolled, but that is not the case at CAPS.
“We would never want to do that,” Hays said. “If somebody has a struggle sophomore year and later wanted to talk about what they want to do when they graduate their senior year, we want to be able to serve them at both of those occasions. ”
Hays said CAPS tries to make the best decisions based on its resources and on students’ issues and needs.
She added that sometimes a student would be referred to a different counselor who may be better suited to help the student, but overall there is no set limit to the number of sessions a student can have.