Administration responds to Student Counseling Center waitlist

With the use of the Seattle Pacific Student Counseling Center at an all-time high, students are flooding the facility faster than counselors can meet with them.

Currently, there is a two-month waiting list for students seeking counseling at the center, including December break, during which the center is closed.

“We do what we can, but we have a limited number of resources,” said Shawn Whitney, assistant director of the Student Counseling Center. “We’re trying to figure out how to steward the resources we have.”

The waitlist does not go without its impact: Of students wait-listed last year, 26 percent said their symptoms worsened as they waited, according to the center’s year-end report for the 2010-2011 school year.

Six percent said the wait eventually led them to withdraw from SPU, the report said.

Dr. Steven Maybell, director of the Student Counseling Center, said more interns qualified to provide counseling sessions have been hired to increase the number of students served.

“There’s a difference in experience and confidence level [in interns],” Dr. Maybell said, “but they are not less effective [than other staff].”

Even with interns providing counseling to students, the waitlist still presents a challenge.

“We’ve moved to what we call a ‘prioritization model,’” said Dr. Jeff Jordan, associate vice president of academic affairs. “But we still struggle with trying to meet the demand.”

Under this model, students whose initial assessments indicate that they are facing critical problems are moved to the front of the waitlist, Whitney said.

“But we still make sure other students have resources available while they wait,” he said.

Such resources include referrals to outside therapists and unlimited access to group-therapy sessions, peer-focused groups overseen by a counselor or intern.

The Student Counseling Center also operates on a brief-therapy model that aims to assuage its high traffic. This model provides six free therapy sessions to every student annually.

After that, if students still require counseling, they are referred to an outside clinic.

In an anonymous follow-up survey that the counseling center gave to students who received counseling, several students said they wished they could have had more sessions.

“It’s hard enough going in there to seek help,” one student wrote, “and then getting there and being told that they can help you find somebody else to talk to kind of sucks.”

Whitney said the goal of brief therapy is to give students short-term support and to serve as many students as possible.

For students who do not have health insurance that covers counseling, the center either makes special arrangements with an outside mental health facility or makes an exception to the six-session limit.

“No student will ever be dropped,” Whitney said. “We’re committed to serving the community.”

But, he said, this commitment has its limits. Since the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year, 233 students have signed up for counseling, Whitney said. Its capacity is 130 students.

“I wish we could do more,” Whitney said. “Preventative education programs are what we really want to be about, but we find we’re being more reactive than proactive.”

Dr. Jordan said that when he is able, he gives the Student Counseling Center extra funding to help it address its needs.

“There’s not a lot of wiggle room in these budgets,” he said. “But if I know there’s money available, and I know there’s a need, I’ll try to fit that need.”

The counseling center has received funds to hire a short-term supplemental staff member for Winter and Spring quarters for two years, Dr. Jordan said. But, he said, “There’s still a bit of a stretch for us to meet demands at the [counseling center].”

Dr. Maybell said he and his staff are currently working to identify whether the increase in the student body’s need for its services over the last year was a spike or a trend.

If it was a trend, he said, the Student Counseling Center might be able to receive more funding in the future.

Dr. Jordan said no plan is currently set to increase funding for the center to expand its staff or resources.

“We don’t have anything set up at this point, but we’re certainly talking about it,” he said.

For Dr. Maybell, the difficulty for SPU to increase funding in any department is understandable.

“Of course I’d like to see more staff so we could serve more students,” he said. “But at the same time, it’s important to realize that universities exist primarily to support and enhance students’ education.

“A university can’t be a full-fledged mental health institution for the whole student population.”

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Title: Administration responds to Student Counseling Center waitlist | Author: Megan Hoye | Section: News | Published Date: 2011-11-30 | Internal ID: 7920