College and University Counseling Centers: Questions in Search of Answers

By Bishop, John B. | Journal of College Counseling, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

College and University Counseling Centers: Questions in Search of Answers


Bishop, John B., Journal of College Counseling


College and university counseling centers are being influenced by changing populations of students and the concerns of a variety of constituencies and stakeholders about mental health issues. Although counseling centers can be important institutional resources in matters of recruitment, retention, and risk management, new legal and ethical issues and concerns about training programs have emerged. This article reviews research on these emerging questions and considers how counseling centers might respond.

College and university counseling centers function in an environment that has frequently changed since such services were first developed. Meadows (2000) and Hodges (2001) traced the evolution of counseling centers from the early precursors to the present, identifying several different periods of historical note because of events that occurred or the contributions that were made by individuals, institutions, and organizations. Other writers have called attention to the challenges, issues, trends, and strategies that have been important to the continuing development of such units (Bishop, 1990, 1995; Kitzrow, 2003; Stone & Archer, 1990). It is clear that those who work in college and university counseling centers are in a professional field that continues to evolve and change. Both internal and external influences are factors in determining what will be of significance to the future of college counseling.

It is important to acknowledge that college and university counseling centers on individual campuses differ from one another in many ways. The size and type of the home institution as well as its geographic location, historical mission, financial status, sources of funding, and the demographics of its student body may all combine to determine something as basic as the size of the counseling staff. In many instances, these same kinds of factors influence the philosophical approach that is used to deliver counseling services at a given institution and the role that the counseling center plays on the campus (Hodges, 2001). Still, even with such individual differences, college and university counseling centers have much in common that binds them together in a distinct professional field that continues to grow and develop.

This article focuses on some of the current questions confronting college and university counseling centers: (a) Are the problems of college students increasing in severity, and, if so, who is concerned about such a development? (b) What strategies are available to counseling centers in meeting the emerging demands for services? (c) How will counseling centers reconcile the new provisions of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), recent judicial rulings, and professional codes of ethics? and (d) Are academic programs producing psychologists who are fully equipped to meet the needs of a contemporary counseling service? Because of the diversity that exists among counseling centers, a particular question may be more or less relevant to a specific center. There are, however, some rather pervasive concerns that will likely have a continuing influence on the professionals who work in counseling centers in higher education. Because mental health issues are now capturing the attention of a broad range of constituents and stakeholders, opportunities may exist to place a fresh emphasis on the importance of counseling services on college campuses.

Question 1

Are the Problems of College Students Increasing in Severity, and, If So, Who Is Concerned About Such a Development?

Within the profession. A comparison of annual surveys of counseling center directors shows that there is a belief among directors that college students are experiencing more severe problems. Over the past 20 years, the percentage of counseling center directors that report such a change has risen from 53% in 1984 (Gallagher, 1984) to 84% in 1994 (Gallagher, Bruner, & Weaver-Graham, 1994) to 86% in 2004 (Gallagher, 2004). …

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