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Counseling and Wellness Services overwhelmed by high demand

January 28, 2022

Last semester, Counseling and Wellness Services saw 435 students with a total of 2,147 appointments scheduled with their counseling staff, a record high for the office. In his first year as director, Dr. Roland Mendiola has been tasked with leading Counseling’s response to the heightened demand. A licensed clinical psychologist, Mendiola has been working at the College since 2016 after receiving his master’s and doctoral degrees in clinical psychology from the University of Denver.

With five full-time counselors, a full-time psychiatrist and various part-time counselors, the Counseling and Wellness Services staff worked to meet student demand last semester. Despite their effort, demand still overwhelmed the office’s limited staff at points last fall.

According to Mendiola, students typically wait for 2-3 days for initial appointments, but it’s possible that students might wait as long as a week. Follow-up appointments can take up to a month to schedule.

At the November faculty meeting, wait times were a point of contention, as many faculty members were concerned about the well-being of their students.

“I just want to correct one narrative that I have heard [based on] emails that I’ve gotten from students … I’ve heard this out there, and that is that there is a lack of availability of counseling—that students have to wait as long as five weeks for appointments. I just want to tell you that that is not true,” Jennifer Scanlon, senior vice president and dean for academic affairs, said.

This statement elicited a range of responses from the faculty in attendance.

“I just want to come behind Jen [Scanlon] and say I’ve also been really shocked to hear the student narrative that counseling is full up, because it is not—they will always see students in crisis, especially if students are in crisis. And with that in mind, I mean, I would really encourage my colleagues as faculty people to announce that in your classes. It doesn’t hurt for us to publicize this, please,” Professor of Cinema Studies Tricia Welsch said.

Other attendees disagreed.

“When a student is in my office telling me [they need counseling], then I pick up the phone to counseling. I make that appointment with them. And then when I do, then of course they get an appointment right away. But I worry about all the students who are not sitting in the faculty member’s office [in] crisis and then having the faculty member intercede in that moment to make an appointment for them,” John F. and Dorothy H. Magee Associate Professor of Asian Studies and English Belinda Kong said. “This is anecdotal, but I do worry that this is not just students creating a false rumor about the long wait too because I’ve heard this from multiple student advisees.”

To deal with the consistent demand from students for counseling and wellness services, the center will shift its practices moderately.

“We are certainly seeing a larger demand, particularly this year, so it’s really forced us to look at the way we work and try to actively consider other ways of working—meaning our clinical models, which is something we’re evolving even this semester,” Mendiola said. “So, we’ve consulted with other college counseling centers, and specifically certain directors who have adopted different clinical models—particularly more of an urgent care-type model which meets the needs and provides greater access, also called a same-day model.”

Now, instead of traditionally waiting to see a counselor, students must take a three-module group intervention class to build emotional, mental and behavioral tools. This class is based on Dr. Will Meek’s urgent care model rather than the traditional clinical model for counseling. Meek is a counseling psychologist based in Providence, R.I., who has consulted various colleges on their mental health strategies. He served as Brown University’s director of counseling and psychological services for three and half years, where he implemented a similar program.

“When students first contact us, we will assess for specific needs, as well as any kind of high-risk concerns and then they’ll engage in what will be a three-module intervention, and that’s a way for students to immediately get strategies and coping skills and some sense of connection and communal support,” Mendiola said. “But, if nothing else, also have a shared language around how to identify mental health issues, how to understand them [and] how to start working with them. That’s what will be, in a sense, necessary for students to then opt-in for individual ongoing counseling.”

Additionally, Counseling and Wellness Services is implementing a change during their peak timeframe of the semester—the last five weeks. During this time, the center will suspend all ongoing meetings to allow for counselors to be free to meet with students in crisis or who need immediate care. This shift allows for students to see a counselor the day they call, rather than after a one to four-week wait.

Editor’s note 02/03/2022 at 7:28 p.m. EDT: A previous version of this article mistakenly reported that Wellness Services saw 344 students with a total number of 3,142 appointments. The numbers were, in fact, 435 students and 2,147 appointments. 

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