More students seek help from University Counseling Services

Ali Jones
Contributing Writer

With the combination of final exam stress and the recent suicides, VCU’s Counseling Services welcome students on both campuses to take advantage of their confidential and free services.

Senior staff psychologist Alena Hampton, Ph.D., said that within the past year, there has been a 4.12 percent increase in the number of students utilizing the UCS, with 1,994 students seeking out the service. In a student satisfaction survey from last year, 85.5 percent of the 1,994 students said they would recommend the UCS to a friend, and 83.13 percent said they were moderately or significantly satisfied with their experience.

“Though our numbers increase every year, there is still an existing stigma associated with counseling,” Hampton said. “Most people who come in have previously accessed services with us or another counseling service. We want to address the stigma by targeting certain populations.”

Along with increasing numbers, the rates of certain demographics has also increased. Within the past year, there has been a 24 percent increase of Asian-American and Hispanic students attending UCS programs and a 14.6 percent increase of multiracial students, Hampton said.

Victoria Keel, clinical case manager, said she also hopes to lower the negative connotations still associated with counseling.

“Because the office is in the commons, it makes it easier to seek out services, especially since it’s not in a health center,” Keel said. “Also, with being associated with popular events like Paws for Stress, I’m hoping that will help to lower the negative ideas as well.”

Hampton said due to the rising number of students, there is an issue of supporting the size and increasing demand. Systemically, it’s a university of more than 30,000 students with more coming in, and services are offered on a brief model. Students are allowed 12 sessions per academic year, though most meet their needs between one and six sessions.

As a clinical case manager, Keel also helps students whose concerns are not met by the 12 offered sessions.

“I help to link students with resources provided elsewhere in the community if their concerns exceed our sessions or don’t match our programs available,” Keel said. “I aim to help personalize the process and find a good fit.”

The programs offered at UCS are both preventative and supportive, offering counseling for individuals, couples, groups, and after-hour services for those feeling suicidal or anxious. Interpersonal process therapy, more commonly known as group therapy, is the program in highest demand, according to Hampton.

All of the services provided are completely confidential, unless issues arise regarding an individual’s safety. The UCS is legally required to break confidentiality if one is harmful to themself or others, if a subpoena is issued or if abuse is involved.

“We take the approach in which the student is involved…they sign a consent form and are fully informed of the limitations of confidentiality and the process of having to tell someone…they are always involved,” Hampton said.

There are ten offered programs that aid in relationship issues and time and stress management. These programs additionally provide services such as the Rainbow group for LGBTQ support, an ADHD group for time management, organization and focus help and a DBT group for skills in managing emotions, Keel said.

Hampton said all of the programs continue through the summer, and many of the outreach programs take preventative actionduring times such as Depression and Eating Disorder Awareness Week. The suicide and self-injury program also takes preventative action and addresses the current struggles students undergo.

Videos and resources are now also available on the UCS website, covering topics on anxiety management, mindfulness, meditation exercises and pockets of information, Keel said.

Paws for Stress is another program through the UCS, collaborating with the Center for Human-Animal Interaction. Certified therapy dogs come to the Monroe Park and MCV campuses twice a semester to reduce stress.

“I think the need for counseling and types of counseling depend on how well you can manage your stress or issues,” Michelle Phanuef, a sophomore and art education major, said. “But I’d say I’ve been pretty stressed this year, and going to the Paws for Stress is so helpful. For me, the dogs are so therapeutic—I loved it.”

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