Crisis Care Strains Campus Counseling Services: Coping with a Mental Health Resources Shift

By Zalaznick, Matt | University Business, April 2017 | Go to article overview

Crisis Care Strains Campus Counseling Services: Coping with a Mental Health Resources Shift


Zalaznick, Matt, University Business


The growing demand for mental health treatment on campuses resulted in part from a national effort, mounted over the last decade or so, to eliminate stigmas and get more students to seek help when grappling with emotional distress.

At the same time, a heightened need for crisis care has forced colleges and universities to shift resources to urgent services, such as 24-hour help lines, and away from the long-term counseling that can best treat a students underlying problems.

Experts compare the situation to putting a broken leg in a cast at the emergency room, but not providing the follow-up physical therapy that leads to still recovery.

"You're treating the symptom and not necessarily the cause," says Christopher Corbett, president of the American College Counseling Association and director of counseling and student support services at the Savannah College of Art and Design. "You get stuck in a potential loop with a person accessing care when there's a crisis, rather than accessing care until the whole thing is resolved."

A student who doesn't get sufficient treatment after a bout with depression or anxiety is more likely to relapse, with every recurrence potentially growing more severe, says Ben Locke, executive director of the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State University. "Counseling services are very good at rapidly responding and performing initial assessments. Then there's a waiting list and they can't see a student for three weeks. That's where the problem is "

Offering group counseling services to augment individual treatment is one way colleges are working to expand counseling capacity.

The Ohio State University accommodates, in a semester, more than 30 groups of five to 10 students who meet regularly with a therapist, for example. Some of the groups support a specific demographic, such as women of color, while others focus on grief relationships or another topic, says Micky Sharma, director of the Counseling and Consultation Service in Ohio State's Office of Student Life, and president of the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors.

Ohio State--as well as other Big Ten universities--also embeds counselors across campus. One clinician spends four days per week in a residence hall office where students can be treated. Other clinicians are stationed at graduate schools. …

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