Wednesday 21st February 2018,
The Transcript

Counseling structure aims to expand aid

Charles Ross

Interim Director of Counseling Services

I read The Transcript September 13th coverage of The Ohio Wesleyan Counseling Center with great interest and would like to address some of the concerns presented. The departure of Colleen Cook and Eric Johnson this summer brought about significant transitions in Counseling Services. Both Dr Cook and Dr Johnson were excellent therapists and highly respected by students and staff alike. They each have moved on to new exciting careers and their departure have understandably left questions about what changes will develop in counseling services.

As I reflected on that September 13th issue a few thoughts came up for me. First I want to extend my appreciation for those OWU students who have advocated on behalf of Counseling Services and worked to both reduce the stigma attached to mental health problems as well as increase access to services. Resource allocation by colleges and universities is challenging and the student body’s desire to ensure counseling service access for all students is commendable and a goal that I strongly support.

I recently retired as Director of Counseling and Student Health at Oberlin College. My career in college counseling expands over nearly 40 years and resource allocation and funding issues for counseling center operations have been at the forefront of my work and the efforts of my fellow counseling center directors across the country throughout this time. Regardless of the institutional resources it’s always the case that education is the primary institutional mission and all other services (including counseling support) are secondary and provided to support the success of the educational mission. This level of support is different and more limited for example than you would expect of an organization with a primary mission of mental health care.

Because counseling or psychological services are secondary to the primary mission of the college, there will always need to be some limitations to the scope of services provided. The challenge is to work within these limitations by implementing methods to provide more efficient and effective treatment for those who desire it. Many students have expressed concern regarding students being placed on a wait list prior to receiving counseling services. This is also a concern for those of us working at Counseling Services. In response to this concern we held meetings at the beginning of the school year to devise and implement procedures for reducing or eliminating the need for a wait list. Coming into the meetings, our goals were to create a plan that would allow us to 1) schedule students to be seen quickly upon presenting to Counseling Services, 2) provide well-established therapies that have shown to be effective, and 3) meet the demand for counseling at OWU so that all students who desire help can receive services. As a result of these discussions and shared professional experiences at a number of colleges, we have shifted the orientation at Counseling Services to align with these goals, which will allow for greater access of services for our student body.

This short term/ brief or solution focused therapy model is the approach used on most college campuses today and many problems can be successfully addressed using this model. It is very important that we emphasize that the counseling provided at Counseling Services is not primarily focused on “emergency counseling “. Although this makes up a portion of our services, Counseling Services is available to address issues that college students regularly struggle with nationwide. Some of the most common concerns we work with include issues with anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, family problems, relationship concerns, loneliness, transitions into or out of college, etc. When students are struggling with longer-term issues and concerns indicating a higher level of support than Counseling Services can provide, staff can help facilitate referrals for work with clinicians in the community for ongoing support. For many students looking for longer-term support, this is a similar arrangement to services obtained at home prior to attending college. Counseling Services staff is meeting with local providers this month to enhance this referral network.

This shift to providing short-term therapy will allow us to serve more students in an equitable and effective manner and eliminate or significantly reduce the probability of a wait list. I want to emphasize that much good and effective work continues to be done and is available to students. This is an opportunity to be listened to, receive support and to clarify the challenges you are experiencing. We have an energized staff ready to meet with you and I’m confident that the current orientation to providing services will deliver an overall positive impact for students.

Despite the understandable concerns that some have expressed regarding the availability of counseling services, most students can be scheduled to meet with a counselor within a week. Of course, during heavy periods of utilization the schedules do get filled, but we realize that crises do still occur in student’s lives. We have created a solution for this problem by creating Crisis Walk-In hours which will allow students to see a counselor on the same day. This service is designed to assist students who are confronting life-threatening circumstances, current or recent traumatic crisis, and/or serious emotional distress. During a same-day crisis consultation a counselor will meet with you briefly to discuss your situation. If you are experiencing a crisis a counselor will work with you to contain and stabilize the situation. If your situation is not a crisis the staff will work with you to schedule an appointment as soon as possible. The same-day walk-in crisis consultation hours are limited each day and are offered on a first come first served basis. Hours are Mondays and Tuesdays at 11:00am and Wednesdays, Thursdays, & Fridays at 1:00pm.

I again want to voice my support and admiration for the continued dedication and diligence of the student body in working to address concerns related to mental health resource availability at OWU and beyond.  Moving forward, I feel confident that we can all work together to continue to address the challenges and realities of mental health at OWU, and work to meet the ever changing need. I welcome your dialogue and new ideas for meeting the challenges of mental health in our community.

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