Following semester of long waitlists, counseling center makes changes

counseling center

To meet the demand, Chapman’s counseling center hired an additional counselor and implemented a 24/7 crisis hotline. Panther Archives

Last October, after events like the Las Vegas shooting and the statewide fires, demand for Chapman’s counseling center tripled, as a waitlist of usually 20 to 30 students grew to 90.

Some students had to wait eight weeks for an appointment, and some never got to see a counselor that semester, said Jeanne Walker, director of the Psychological Counseling Services at Chapman. But this spring, Walker said that the waiting list has never been longer than two weeks.

“Last fall was not a good situation at all,” Walker said. “I do not like going home knowing that students are not getting the help they need.”

[Related: Nearly 90 on waitlist for counseling]

Across the country, colleges are dealing with how to handle students in mental health crises, especially when they have explicit information regarding the situation. A 2016 suicide at Hamilton University – when a student who was seemingly prospering at the university killed himself in his dorm room – has recently risen questions about mental health protocol on campus, after the student’s mother read her son’s journal and realized that the school had been aware of his problems, but was “slow to offer help and understanding.”

At Chapman, when the waitlist reached 90 students, Student Government President Mitchell Rosenberg planned to draft a resolution to assist with the campus mental health services.

I do not like going home knowing that students are not getting the help they need.”

This semester, the counseling center hired an additional counselor and implemented a 24/7 crisis hotline to help more students get access to help. Counselors are also required to have open spaces in their schedules for new students who aren’t in crisis, but are seeking assistance, Walker said.

“We want to get a better picture of what it is that they’re looking for,” she said. “The initial screening is to determine whether they’re appropriate for us. That first appointment is important.”

For students who are in a crisis, the center will see them that day.

“They’re not going to wait,” Walker said. “They’re going to be seeing somebody, regardless of whether we have to keep them here for a little bit until somebody has an opening, but we’ll see them that day.”

[Related: Public Safety addresses campus safety, mental health protocol]

The new hotline will allow students, faculty and staff to call a therapist for any crisis or emergency. Then, the counseling center will use the information from those calls to contact the person to schedule an appointment or offer assistance. The program will likely be implemented next month, so it can be fully developed when students return for the fall 2018 semester.

Chapman isn’t the only school dealing with a lack of counselors and waitlists, as a California senator proposed a new bill to change the counselor-to-student ratios in all California State Universities and community colleges.

Under this bill, these campuses would be required to hire one counselor for every 1,500 students. At Chapman, there are seven full-time counselors for 7,020 students, yielding a lower ratio of one professional for every 1,002 students.

The number of students who use the counseling center increases every year, Walker said. Eight hundred and five students have visited the center this year to date, while 743 had visited by this time last year, and 646 the year before. Walker attributes the increase to the number of out-of-state students.

The waitlist tripled last semester following the Las Vegas shooting and the California fires. Panther Archives

“The farther you’re coming from, the harder it is for some people,” she said.

Freshman Sophia Barr said that, even with the new changes, she had to wait two weeks to see a therapist. She was finally matched with a counselor who she says was relatable and understanding, but the center could benefit from increasing its staff, she said.

“(My counselor) was easy to talk to, offered outside resources and helped me set attainable goals throughout the process,” said Barr, a dance and strategic corporate communications double major. “(She) helped me reflect on the work I was doing to heal myself.”

Full-time undergraduate students have to pay a “wellness center” fee of $244 every academic year, according to Chapman’s website.

[Related: County purchases facility to house mental health patients, help homeless population]

“Given the amount of money we pay for Chapman and the amount of donations they get, there should absolutely be more counselors,” said Hunter Turney, a sophomore screenwriting major. “They should put more funding toward promoting health instead of buying some fancy unneeded thing.”

Although students say that more therapists would alleviate the waiting list, Walker said the counseling center does not have the ability to employ more counselors, as of right now.

“First of all, we have so many rooms here and they’re all filled,” she said. “Our therapists are busy all the time, and we managed to get as many people as we can with rooms that are always being used.”

The length of the waitlist depends on counselor and student availability, as some students have limited schedules, and sometimes there are no matches, Walker said. Then, they have to go on the waitlist until something opens up.

“I appreciate that (the counseling center) tries to match each student with a special counselor, which made my experience more personalized,” Barr said. “I would refer anyone, no matter the level of mental instability, to seek out their help if needed.”