Counseling Center Makes Changes To Reduce Wait Times

Sean Newhouse 
News Editor

Due to the sensitive nature of counseling, all students spoke to Flyer News on the condition of confidentiality.

When UD first-year engineering major Connor Alexander died on Nov. 4, his friend, a fellow first-year engineering major, began skipping classes.

She said her professors were empathetic but that her grades started to fall. Still adjusting to college, she now had to cope with a friend’s death.

She went to the Counseling Center regularly prior to Connor’s death but missed her scheduled appointment on Nov. 8 to attend his funeral. She wasn’t able to get in to the Counseling Center again until the week of Dec. 3.

The engineering major said the session was helpful but “very delayed.”

“It’s discouraging when you feel like they’re not wanting you to come in,” she said.

Dr. Becky Cook, the director of UD’s Counseling Center, said the student’s experience was probably because mid- to late in the semester tends to be the busiest time and there must not have been any openings.

While UD undergraduates, graduate assistants and law students can use the Counseling Center for free, long wait times for sessions due to an increase in students seeking counseling have, in some cases, restricted students’ ability to use the service and have increased the workload for Center staff.

However, the Counseling Center has implemented a number of initiatives this semester to reduce wait times for and reach a greater number of students.

On the Counseling Center’s website, it says it should take a few days to get an initial appointment with the Counseling Center. During busy times, it says it might take up to two weeks.

However, eight students responded to a survey from Flyer News that it took them three weeks or more to get an initial appointment with the Counseling Center. (Six students said it took one to two weeks; two said it was less than one week).

This is due to an increase in the number of students utilizing the Counseling Center. According to university data, there was a 59 percent increase in initial appointments from the ’10-’11 Academic Year (AY) to the ’17-’18 AY. There also was a 65 percent increase in ongoing appointments, and the number of crisis appointments doubled during that period.

For example, there were 520 ongoing clients at the Counseling Center that had 2,622 appointments in the ’10-’11 AY. For the ’17-’18 AY, there were 919 ongoing clients that had 4,327 appointments.

Despite the increase, the number of staff at the Center has effectively remained the same since 2010.

In the ’10-’11 AY, the Counseling Center had seven staff and three graduate students. During the Fall 2018 semester, there were seven staff, five graduate students and one temporary staff member who worked 28 hours per week.

Cook, who has worked at the university for 17 years, said drop-in hours, which were initiated this semester, have reduced the wait time.

The Center has drop-in hours on weekdays from 12:45 to 2:15 where students can have an unscheduled initial appointment with a counselor.

“By doing the drop-in system, our wait times [for initial appointments] are really cut down,” she said.

The wait for an appointment also depends on when in the semester the student schedules. When I interviewed Cook in the afternoon on April 25, she said there was an opening the next day and eight spots the following week for initial appointments.

For students who have ongoing appointments with the Counseling Center, Cook said the average length of time between appointments is four weeks but that more sessions can be scheduled based on student need. Most students who responded to Flyer News’ survey reported that on average their wait time between appointments was/is two weeks or less.

Emergency appointment times are available every day. When the Center isn’t open, there is a counselor on call that can be reached by contacting Public Safety.

The increase in counseling center utilization at UD is reflective of national trends. From 2010 to 2015, there was a 30 to 40 percent increase in students using their college counseling center, according to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health.

Cook said she thinks this is due both to today’s college students experiencing more issues and there being less stigma associated with using mental health services.

She added that the increase at UD also can be attributed to the university’s record-breaking class sizes.

The counseling center director asked the university for more staff at the end of the Spring 2018 semester, and an additional position was created for the ’18-’19 AY. However, Cook says UD could still use more mental health staff.

“I truly believe we probably need more,” she said. “But we weren’t allowed to hire again this year…We need more – yes. Would I like to hire more? Yes. But then across the country everybody would.”

The Counseling Center also has created a number of support, therapy and skill groups that cut back on the number of individual sessions that may be necessary.

Still, the increase in demand paired with a minimal increase in staff has harmed students.

A sophomore engineering major told Flyer News a counselor canceled her appointment with her twice during the Fall 2018 semester; she never met with a counselor despite scheduling her initial appointment in late October.

Likewise, a sophomore business major said she tried to schedule an appointment in April 2018 and was told it was not possible. When she got an appointment during the Fall 2018 semester, she met with a graduate student.

The sophomore said it was like talking to a “high school counselor.” In the end, the student sought assistance not at UD.

A student who graduated in December said she stopped going to the Counseling Center because she was meeting with a graduate student.

“Therapists I’ve had in the past would relate my problems to broader psychological themes, give homework assignments or talk me through problems,” she said. “There was none of that in my time at the Counseling Center.”

Cook said the graduate students who are employed by the Counseling Center are training to be licensed professionals; they are in a program that requires them to complete clinical training.

“We provide them the space to practice what they’ve learned under supervision,” she said.

Cook added that students can ask to be reassigned to a different therapist. She said therapists use different methods that may not work for everyone.

Overall, six students reported to Flyer News through a survey that they met with a graduate student at the Counseling Center who didn’t meet their needs. However, eight students reported the graduate student did meet their needs.

Cook said the Center is trying to help as many students as possible but that there is only so much they can do within their budget.

“We know there are students that are not getting their needs met or not being able to get in…in what they’re feeling is a timely basis,” she said. “We are passionate about our work and passionate about helping people. Or we wouldn’t be doing this.”

Photos taken by Christian Cubacub