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With a 37 percent increase in services provided to Bowdoin students by the Counseling Service in the 2005-2006 year, an earlier-than-usual waiting list developed and has required students to wait up to three weeks in some cases.

"There seems to be more comfort and less stigmatism in students about coming for sessions," said Director of the Counseling Service Bernie Hershberger. "Having a waiting list signals that people are really ready and willing to use counseling services. So, we are going to have to figure out how to distribute our resources, maybe in a more thoughtful way."

Senior Associate Dean of Student Affairs Margaret Hazlett said that this is not the first time a waiting list has developed. She said she feels confident in the way the Counseling Service deals with students and their well-being.

In order to screen for emergency cases, counselors review intake forms filed by the students to check for warning indicators, such as suicidal thoughts or behavior. Any emergencies are handled immediately and around-the-clock, while others are placed on a waiting list for one-to-two weeks.

Currently, the Counseling Service consists of two consulting psychiatrists, five permanent staff, and two masters-level interns. Hershberger does not expect to see an increase in staff at this time, so various groups, such as those for sexually assaulted women and abusers of alcohol have been created to help deal with the waiting list.

One Bowdoin student, who wished to remain unnamed, said that she contacted counseling services earlier this year when her godfather passed away and she was not feeling like herself, but was placed on a waiting list.

"They said they would let me know when the first available counselor was, and it was two-and-a-half weeks until then," she said. "It was weird, because my initial feelings on the matter changed since then, and I didn't really need counseling anymore."

Hershberger said that the waiting list is attributable to increased demand from students, as well as their conflicting schedules with busy counselors. While 21 percent of the student body sought counseling during the 2005-2006 academic year, Hershberger suggested that figure could increase to 25 percent.

Hershberger stressed the importance of prevention programs in dealing with stress so that sleep issues, phobias, abusive behaviors, or worse do not develop as a result. For the past eight years, the Counseling Service has worked to set up programming, such as yoga, meditation, and Tai Chi, currently enrolling about 250 students. However, with the waiting list placing extra demand on staff, Hershberger said there is less time to develop extra programs.

"I think we reach a point where if we get too stressed out, then we stop being as effective as we can be," he said. "I am concerned that the staff may in the end either get overworked or become less therapeutic with the students."

To help alleviate the problem, aside from the support groups mentioned above, the Counseling Service asks students for voluntary reductions in sessions. While Hershberger said he does not want to make students' problems seem unimportant by placing restrictions on sessions, the center does ask if students are willing to meet every other week to free up time slots.

For those who do not want to wait, the counseling staff also sets up appointments with counselors and therapists in Brunswick, though sometimes issues with medical insurance prevents students from doing so.

If demand grows and change becomes necessary, Hershberger said that he would like to work out solutions with the Bowdoin community, which might involve setting up a focus group of students, staff, and faculty for feedback. However, he stressed that the waiting list is still reasonable when compared to those at other universities or with real-world counselors.

To compare, Colby College and Bates College each have a counseling service within their health service centers. Like Bowdoin, Colby does not restrict the number of appointments students can make, while Bates offers eight free appointments, with additional sessions available through insurance payments.

In the 2005-2006 year, 17 percent of Colby's students sought counseling, while 42 percent of the graduating class had received counseling during their time at the college. The Bates center sees 25 percent of the student body each year, with eight part-time psychological counselors and a one-week wait list at peak times.

With a lower proportion of students seeking counseling than at Bowdoin, Director of Counseling at Colby Patti Newmen said that there is not a waiting list. Emergency cases are seen right away, returning students contact their counselor directly to set up individual appointments, and new students are asked to call back another day if there are no openings in the week ahead.

"We all struggle this time of the semester to meet the demand," Newmen said.

As for the future of Bowdoin's counseling supply, Senior Health Programs Administrator Caitlin Gutheil said that it is premature to make predictions yet.

"We've had high demand for services in other years, including wait lists similar to the size we're seeing now," she said. "Historically we've managed the demand with the staffing that was available without sacrificing quality. We'll need to see if this year marks a significant enough increase to cause us to change operations."

Staff Clinician Alison McGrath said the future will require reflection on what counseling services are needed, raising some important questions.

"It depends on Bowdoin's perspective as to their responsibility to students in regard to counseling," she said. "What services should be provided? To what extent? What are people's views about counseling in general and their place at an academic setting? What is the mission of the College? What are students' needs and how can and should these needs be met?"