Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Change in Academic Distress: Examining Differences between a Clinical and Nonclinical Sample of College Students

Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Change in Academic Distress: Examining Differences between a Clinical and Nonclinical Sample of College Students

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to examine academic distress over the course of a semester for both a clinical and nonclinical sample of college students by administering the Counseling Center Assessment of Psychological Symptoms (CCAPS-62 and CCAPS-34) to students at a single university. Results revealed that students who were in counseling showed a significant decrease in academic distress scores, whereas students who were not in counseling showed no significant change in academic distress scores. Implications of these results on future practices for university counseling centers are discussed.


In recent years, college counseling centers have faced increased pressure to demonstrate the effectiveness of their services. Proponents of increased accountability measures have argued that centers should be evaluated on factors that are linked to educational outcomes, such as retention and grade point average (GPA; e.g., Sharkin, 2004; Turner & Berry, 2000). Wilson, Mason, and Ewing (1997) asserted that one purpose of college counseling is to assist students with decision making and problem solving, which should then be reflected in the way students perform academically. Choi, Buskey, and Johnson (2010) stated, "Implicit in most counseling centers' mission statements is the notion that receiving counseling services will not only help students deal with their personal concerns but also will promote their subsequent academic success" (p. 297).

Counseling centers have been searching for ways to demonstrate the effect their services have on educational outcomes. Until recently, most counseling research has focused on using retention and GPA as measures of academic outcome. However, the results of these studies have not been consistent. As described later, although most studies have shown that counseling has a positive effect on retention, these findings are not constant across class standing and appear to be affected by the client's presenting concern (Illovsky, 1997; Turner & Berry, 2000). Furthermore, the relationship between GPA and counseling also has been found to be inconsistent (Campbell, 1965; Illovsky, 1997; Lee, Olson, Locke, Michelson, & Odes, 2009).

With previous research revealing inconsistent results when using GPA and retention as indices of the academic effects of counseling, concerns have been raised about the appropriateness of these two variables as sole outcome measures for college counseling centers (e.g., Choi et al., 2010; Illovsky, 1997; Sharkin, 2004). Promoting retention and improved GPA is not the direct goal or focus of counseling (Choi et al., 2010; Giddan et al., 1987; Illovsky, 1997; Nafziger, Couillard, & Smith, 1999; Sharkin, 2004). Further, there is often a gap in time between when services were rendered and when the outcome variable is measured (Choi et al., 2010).

Given that college counseling centers are under increased pressure to demonstrate their effectiveness, finding a measure that appropriately assesses the potential relationship that exists between counseling and academics is important. In this article, we address what is problematic with past approaches to examining educational outcomes that use retention and GPA. We make the argument that using a standardized instrument to explore the effect that counseling has on academics, particularly academic distress, is a better way to explore the potential relationship. For the purpose of this study, academic distress is defined as students' concerns related to their academic motivation, confidence, concentration, enjoyment, and ability to complete their course work. Researchers believe that college counseling centers can address academic distress concerns in short-term, time-limited sessions that are often offered on college campuses (Draper, Jennings, Baron, Erdur, & Shankar, 2002; Nafziger et al., 1999). In the present study, academic distress is examined over the course of a semester for a clinical sample of college students to explore the potential effect that counseling has on this variable. …

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