Counseling center lifts therapy session limit, sees increase in appointments

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The Student Psychological Counseling Services lifted the eight-session limit. Graphic by Rebeccah Glaser

After lifting the eight-session limit that was put into place at Student Psychological Counseling Services (SPCS) in February 2012, Jeanne Walker, director of the SPCS, said that the number of counseling sessions scheduled has increased by about 400, although the number of students seeking counseling has only increased by 21.

“I don’t want a student to think ‘Oh my gosh, it’s my eighth session and I’m not OK yet,’” Walker said. “We don’t want that, so that’s why we discontinued the number of sessions.”

From August to December 2015, when the session limit was still in place, the counseling center saw 364 students, and a total of 1,923 appointments were booked. However, in the same time frame this year, the center has seen 385 students, and 2,352 appointments have been booked – a 22 percent increase.

Walker said that the session limits were initially implemented because the eight-counselor SPCS staff didn’t have time to accommodate unlimited sessions for all students who needed counseling. After the limit was lifted, the staff conceived a plan that allowed counselors to schedule appointments based on the severity of students’ issues – something that Walker calls “short-term therapy.”

The center is looking for ways to accommodate students who need more than bi-weekly therapy sessions. Photo by Bonnie Cash

The center is looking for ways to accommodate students who need more than bi-weekly therapy sessions. Photo by Bonnie Cash

However, Walker said that this solution only worked for a short amount of time, as this semester saw more students at Chapman. Walker said that students who come into the center reporting severe depression or suicidal thoughts need to be seen as often as necessary, and can’t just be seen on a biweekly or monthly basis, which is why the center struggled to sift through the number of students who sought counseling this fall.

Even with the influx of students, Walker said, the counseling center won’t implement a session limit again, so she’s searching for other solutions, like many college campuses across the nation. A 2013 American Psychological Association survey found that 95 percent of college counseling center directors said that the number of students seeking counseling was a growing concern.

“I’m not going to go back to a number. I just don’t think it’s right,” Walker said. “I just went to a program this morning (Nov. 30) given by one of the directors at another university, who I happen to know, and he was talking about the importance of trying to figure this out. Because this is not just at Chapman, this is all over the nation. Counseling centers are all feeling just overwhelmed with the numbers of students coming in.”

Although SPCS tries to connect students with outside counselors as well as work with students who have limited insurance, there are still some obstacles.

“The focus is getting the students the help they need, but a lot of students don’t want to go (to outside counselors) or they don’t have transportation,” Walker said. “If they’re not in a crisis or emergency, they go on a waitlist, unfortunately. So at this time of year, it could be that they don’t get in this semester. And that’s really hard for us, really hard.”

Kristen Weiser contributed to this report.

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