This is the first installment of a new series on campus wellness.

Whether experiencing a crisis or feeling mild exam-week stress, Bowdoin students for years have relied upon the hard work of Counseling Services.  This semester, however, brings a change for counseling at the College: According to an email from Director of Counseling Services Bernie Hershberger, students who are not in situations of “crisis or complicated mental health diagnoses” will no longer be able to receive weekly sessions with a counselor.   

According to Hershberger, roughly 27 percent of Bowdoin’s student population currently utilizes Counseling Services. 

“[It] is one of the largest utilization rates I have heard of  among small colleges,” wrote Hershberger in an email to the Orient. 

Over the past nine years, according to Hershberger, Counseling Services has seen a 40 percent increase in students utilizing their service. In response, the College has made an effort to keep Counseling Services well staffed, and hired a new psychologist last spring, Robert Carnicella. The change in policy, therefore, is not as a result of understaffing or time constraints. However, according to Hershberger, adding more and more employees to keep up demand is not necessarily a viable long-term solution.  

To deal with this growth in a more sustainable manner, the center has modified its approach to therapy on campus. The center has changed from emphasizing a traditional one-on-one therapy model to providing more group-based options. The change, according to Hershberger, is rooted in a “desire to have room for every student to have access to counseling if they wish it.” 
Emma Johnson ’14, who began going to Counseling Services at the beginning of this year, said that she was encouraged to participate in group counseling center exercises after her first appointment. 

“They gave me a few more appointments, and I’m grateful that they’re making the time,” she said. “They did recommend that I go to meditation classes and some of the group mindfulness stuff that the counseling offers.”

Although Johnson said that she personally is not interested in group sessions, she could see how they would be helpful for others. 

Hannah Tennant ’14 has been going to Counseling Services since the spring of her sophomore year. She began with weekly appointments both that spring and her junior fall, and was transitioned into biweekly appointments this fall.

“Currently, I feel totally fine about it, but back when counseling felt more necessary, I don’t think I would have,” she said.

According to Tennant, the change in policy to biweekly appointments was presented as a top down decision.

“They talked about how this is their formatting for this year,” she said. “I feel comfortable enough with counseling that if I wanted something every week I could work it out with them. But it was sort of presented to me as how they were trying to do things this year.” 

In order to prepare for this policy shift, Counseling Services held an eight-hour training session on September 17 to broaden both their knowledge and experience with group-based counseling.  With greater skill sets in this area of programming, Hershberger hopes to address student issues with what can sometimes be a more effective form of treatment than individual meetings. 

The increase in group sessions and activities will ideally cut into that 27 percent, as well as reduce the number of students needing more intensive psychological care. The groups will also help Bowdoin avoid turning students away in the future, or capping a student’s number of visits at five or 10 (as many other colleges and universities do around the country, according to Hershberger). 
Wellness classes have been a staple at Bowdoin for years, but this new plan will include a vast array of new programming. Yoga will still be available, but starting this fall, additional programs will be offered on all over campus, covering topics ranging from eating concerns to journal writing.  

Counseling services have also teamed up with organizations like the Bowdoin Outing Club to offer relaxing and healthy trips ranging from moonlit paddleboarding to cabin retreats.