Citing increasing demand, new counseling center system hopes to facilitate student need

Alexis Carel /THE REVIEW
The point of the counseling center (above) is to help students suffering from some form of onset symptoms that they feel they cannot deal with alone.

BY Senior Reporter

There is, indeed, a second floor to the Perkins Student Center. It is home to one of the most popular resources for students’ mental health, the Center for Counseling and Student Development (CCSD).

The CCSD’s website states that it has resources that can help with most stress-related needs, like “reducing psychological symptoms, coping with life events and developmental tasks, improving interpersonal skills and relationships and increasing self-knowledge and resilience.”

The counseling center promotes psychological well-being for student success by helping them cope with symptoms while balancing their careers, academics and social lives. However, Dr. Mary Anne Lacour, the Clinical Coordinator for the CCSD, stated in an email there has been a significant increase in students that request these services, and the counseling center was left to address the issue of this influx of people in need of some form of help.

Previously, the counseling center used a system where students would schedule their initial intake appointment for a future date. In Spring 2019, taking into consideration the “dramatic increase” of students seeking appointments, the counseling center and Lacour implemented a new system: walk-in hours.

Lacour led a team of five to six psychologists to find a better way to respond to this new demand for services. The center made “incremental changes” over the past two years, such as shortening the time of the initial appointment in order to fit in more students throughout the course of the day.

However, the CCSD’s demand called for a bigger change, so the center decided to move from scheduled initial appointments to the new walk-in system for first contacts, the first time students meet their counselors. Now, students who call in or walk in for initial appointments are told they can be seen the same day.

“Our hope is to quickly meet with distressed students so we can more quickly assess their need to make recommendations for next steps … [and] to make the center more broadly welcoming to students who may not have always felt welcome,” Lacour stated in an email.

Because the center’s resources are structured to provide short-term care, students sometimes need to seek off-campus care, which requires a referral. Lacour said that the CCSD added a full-time referral coordinator this year.

“They have been able to build relationships with off-campus providers and assist students in making connections that work with their transportation, insurance, and clinical needs,” Lacour said.

Lacour and her team looked at other universities of comparable sizes to assess their techniques and bring them to the CCSD, finding that walk-in hours seemed to be the best decision and piloted it this semester. The CCSD is monitoring the system’s success through student satisfaction surveys.

Lacour said 60% of students have expressed a preference for the walk-in system over the former system, 20% preferred the old system and 20% reported no preference.

The CCSD has walk-in hours on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. and Tuesdays through Thursdays 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. Afternoon walk-in hours are from 12:30 to 3 daily.

Despite the designated walk-in hours, there are still students who cannot make those times.

“We work with these students, as we always have, to serve them when they can come,” Lacour said.

The implementation of a new system comes with the caveat of continued improvement. The center stated it sees that this new model has brought positive change, but it will continue to accept feedback and evaluate it. As per student evaluations and other data, Lacour said the system will be tweaked accordingly, and the center will decide this summer whether to continue walk-in hours in the future.

“I am confident that if we decided to continue the new system, we will make improvements based on what we learn this spring,” Lacour said.

The center also piloted two more types of appointments: single session appointments, one-time consultation meetings about a specific issue and walk-in hours for students of color who would like to meet with a staff member of color.

Andrea Gibeck, a second-year music performance major from Maryland, has been going to the counseling center on a regular basis since her freshman year. She has never had a walk-in appointment before, but she said the center is efficient and its workers care about her needs.

“I think the people that work there are good hearted … and I would encourage anyone to go because everyone deserves a safe place where they can talk,” Gibeck said.

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