The mental health of students is one of the major priorities of the Wheaton College Counseling Center. But are the counselors fully equipped to carry out this priority? The mixed reviews of the center have called attention to some areas in which the center could be improved. Many students have mentioned the lack of counseling time they have been offered by the center in the past due to the short-term solution-focused therapy being the longest term offered on campus.
The Counseling Center’s goal is to help students reach a short-term resolution to any problems they are dealing with, through therapy. However, some may feel that there is a limit to how much a short-term resolution can help, and that this mission is not enough to effectively provide students with enough support that they may need. Though the campus does understand that both short-term and long-term counseling is not a common service that is offered at college counseling centers, the students believe that it should be offered on Wheaton’s campus. This will be a challenge for the center because if they offered longer-term therapy, they would only be able to support around 60 students instead of the over 280 students they have been able to serve to date this year. This emphasizes the need for more funding and space for more clinicians.
Students have been satisfied with the first couple of sessions (up to five) they were allowed in the center, but when students with more serious problems were given referrals to other locations in the town of Attleboro, this caused confusion for these students. Where they not worth the Counseling Center’s time? Or did the center not have the resources to fully support them?
Some believe that no student’s issues should be too serious or too much for a counseling center to handle.
One student said, “I felt like I was just being moved along to another place. As if my problems were too serious for them to handle.” Another student said, “I felt angry that even though I was dealing with problems that developed on campus, the counseling center on campus wasn’t even equipped to deal with it.”
Though the individuals in the center seem to personally care about the well-being of students, they, according to these students who wished to remain anonymous, do not have the tools or specialized training needed to continue to work with students to the extent needed.
Though the center has been given an 84 percent satisfaction rating for the 2016-17 years and many students reported that their counselor listened, understood their concerns and was helpful, some sessions at the center have been described as going through the process of checking boxes—that is, once the short checklist is completed, you are sent elsewhere. This is a problem that has been recurring yet has not been dealt with. Many students believe that they deserve to have the ability to receive all the help they need at the same campus on which they reside, as multiple students have said that they did not have the time to travel to another town in order to reach another counselor. In these cases, they ended up trying to deal with their concerns on their own.
The center provides short-term solution-focused therapy. There are not many problems that fit in that category. Challenges such as adjusting to college could be helped in a short time span, but anything more serious is not dealt with on campus. One student recalls his experience at the center.
“I found that the couple [of] sessions I had with the counselors were very helpful and I am now actively using the skills the counselor recommended me to use!” The same student then said, “But if I had had a more serious problem, I don’t think the therapy I received would have been enough.”
Students recognize that the counselors seem to have been instructed to only provide students with short-term goals, but they also encourage the institution to aid the center in moving further than just short-term therapy.
One student told a very personal statement to help spread the word about the lack of help she received from the center.
“I was sexually assaulted on this campus and went to the Counseling Center and they gave me very limited help. I was told to contact another place for counseling and that they could only help with short-term problems. The counselors were nice, but they did not have the resources to provide actual support.”
The same student also mentioned that she was having trouble making the commute to the alternative center to which she was referred. Unfortunately, because the clinicians are generalists, they refer out for specialty care. Typically trauma care is longer-term than what they can provide on campus.
The Counseling Center has replied to similar comments by saying that “Besides services at the Counseling Center for short term, solution-focused work, we also provide case management to students, meaning if a student needs or wants specialized or ongoing services off-campus, we help every step of the way from identifying providers, discussing finances, insurance and transportation, to helping the student make the phone calls and schedule their first appointment. This case management service is crucial for our students, and not a service that is offered at all college counseling centers.”
Though the resources provided to Wheaton students are limited, it seems as though they are even more so on other college campuses across the nation.
Transportation is a big issue for students who do not have the resources or time to make the trip to off-campus locations.
Students lack funds for the cost of Uber rides and may not have the time to travel back and forth just for a short counseling session. Several students have expressed that if the campus has a center, it should be used to its full potential. According to students who were interviewed, this has not been the case. Thus, many may believe that colleges should provide counseling services with the ability to support any student with any problem.
The Counseling Center has seen an 18 percent increase in utilization (individual students accessing services) this year over last year. This is positive news, meaning that students are understanding how to reach the services provided, but it also emphasizes the need for more staff and stronger support at the center. The Director of Counseling and Health Services, Valerie Tobia, said that the center has indeed responded to this need by recently hiring a full-time clinician.
“The college is helping us move forward in providing services to [the] campus—for example, we have been approved this year to hire a new full-time clinician in the Counseling Center,” Tobia stated. “Our new clinician started two weeks ago! We are excited for this and hope to continue growing, developing and providing a diverse set of clinical, outreach and educational opportunities for students, faculty and staff in the years to come.”
These improvements to the center are an ongoing process, and the campus looks forward to the higher level of support offered in the future.