Utilization of Counseling Services by International Students

Article excerpt

This study examined the utilization of counseling services by international students at a major university in Texas. Five hundred and sixteen international students visited the university counseling center during the academic years of 1992 and 1998. Their demographic characteristics, referral resources, types of services sought, as well as their self-reported presenting concerns, were examined. Those students who used the counseling center for career counseling were more likely to be younger, female, and of undergraduate status. Those students who used the counseling center for personal problems were more likely to be older, male, and graduate students. "Academics/Grades," "Anxiety," and "Depression" were the top three concerns for undergraduate students while "Depression," "Time Management," and "Relationship with Romantic Partner" were the top three "extremely worried" concerns for graduate students. Culturally responsive programming, implications for counseling, limitations of this study, and suggestions tot future study are discussed.

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Between the 1999-2000 and 2000-2001 academic years, the number of international students attending colleges and universities in the United States increased by 6.4% to a record total of 547,867 (Institute for International Education, 2002). The Open Doors Report on International Exchange published by the Higher Education Resources Group, a division of the Institute of International Education, provides annual statistical data on students coming to the United States, as well as U.S. students studying abroad. According to this report, the 6.4% increase in international enrollment in U.S. colleges and universities is the largest increase in the past twenty years. While the impact of the September 11 tragedy on international exchange is yet to be empirically examined, the expectation is that the number of international students in the U.S. will continue to increase in the future (Lin & Yi, 1997; Mori, 2000; Sandhu & Asrabadi, 1994). University personnel and mental health professionals face the challenge of providing appropriate counseling services to this large and growing population. It is important to examine international students' unique experiences and concerns, including the impact of terrorism and anti-terror policies on these students. A better understanding of the issues of international students on the part of mental health professionals will foster an environment more conducive to direct interaction between students of different cultures. (Lin & Yi, 1997; Mori, 2000; Sandhu & Asrabadi, 1994).

Over the years, many studies have examined international students' counseling concerns and needs. These concerns and needs can be broadly divided into five interrelated categories: academic, physical health, financial, vocational, and personal/social. Academically, international students straggle with completing essay examinations, taking notes during lectures due to limited language proficiency (Deressa & Beavers, 1988; Parr, Bradley & Bingi, 1992), and the difficulties of studying effectively in a new educational system (Mau & Jepsen, 1990). Second, concerning physical health, many international students indicate that they have difficulty interacting with U.S. healthcare providers due to language barriers or a lack of knowledge of the healthcare system (Prieto, 1995). Third, some international students face financial hardships during the years of their study due to immigration regulations that generally prohibit international students from working off campus. (Mori, 2000) Fourth, international students' unique vocational concerns/needs are related to the geographic location of their future employment. Upon the completion of their studies, it is difficult for them to decide whether to seek employment in the U.S. or in their countries of origin (Wehrly, 1986). Lastly, the most commonly reported personal/social concerns of international students involve social isolation, loneliness, homesickness, irritability, and tiredness (Das, Chow & Rutherford, 1986; Wehrly, 1986). …