Lindsey West, Contributing Writer
University Counseling Services offers students a range of mental health services, but an individual’s path through the system varies depending on their circumstances. And some students say what was offered to them wasn’t adequate to address their mental health concerns.
“It wasn’t really what I expected,” said Adam Dunlap, a freshman psychology student who participated in one counseling session. “I was more just evaluated and then sent somewhere else rather than counseled.”
Division of Student Affairs spokesperson Matthew Lovisa said in an email that students seeking counseling meet with a clinician to assess their specific needs.
There are evaluations for acute mental illnesses, which are addressed by brief treatment, and chronic mental illnesses, which require longer-term care and support. The evaluation is done through paperwork that takes about 10 minutes to complete, and the services — which are short term and focused on treatment — are free to currently enrolled students.
Lovisa said that most student concerns are resolved within five to six sessions. Counseling Services does not have the capacity to oversee students for a long period of time.
“If longer-term care is the best recommendation for a student, UCS will help the student connect with a community provider,” Lovisa said.
According to the American Psychological Association, an average of 15 to 20 counseling sessions are needed for 50% of patients to recover, as indicated by self-reported symptom measures.
The concern for mental health issues among college-age students continues to expand as reported levels of anxiety, depression and relationship problems are on the rise. An American Psychological Association study showed 41.6% of university-age students presented signs of having anxiety, and 36.4% showed depression symptoms.
Junior Luna Powell, who attended two one-on-one sessions as a sophomore and five this academic year, said the advice she was given was helpful, but not enough.
“Some of their advice was useful, but at the same time I think their session was not enough for me,” Powell said, “It was helpful to some extent, but at the same time, it didn’t work out as I wanted to.”
Powell never attended group sessions but was referred to an outside counselor and said that it “didn’t really help out much.”
“Group therapy is often the recommendation when the concerns presented are interpersonal in nature,” Lovisa said. “Group therapy provides an opportunity for students to learn to address concerns in a safe and supportive setting. It also helps students understand that they are not alone in their struggles.”
Group therapy is common after one-on-one counseling sessions have concluded.
A freshman pre-nursing student, who asked that her name not be published, said she was encouraged to attend group therapy even though she expressed she wasn’t comfortable with it.
“Because of funding and how small the department is, they can’t offer long term therapy and will instead heavily encourage group therapy, even if you have stated reasons why you’re uncomfortable with that,” she said. “They kept reminding me that one-on-one is only a few sessions, and I got so frustrated I sternly said, ‘a few sessions is better than none. I don’t want to do group therapy,’ and they finally left it alone.”
Insurance is not required for University Counseling Services. If a student is transferred to extended therapy, having insurance is preferable.
“When making referrals, we take into consideration a student’s access to health insurance, transportation, financial situation and clinical need,” Lovisa said. “Assistance is also provided in linking students with services in their hometown or moving destination, to ensure continuity of care over the summer break or following graduation/exiting VCU.”
Lovisa said diversity among the staff and inclusivity for students is important. There are employees at Counseling Services that speak Spanish, French and Korean, and identities are welcome regardless of gender expression, race, sexual orientation, and other personal and social characteristics that comprise individual identity.
In the future, Counseling Services plans to analyze national data and decide on how to properly adjust its framework to best fulfill VCU’s needs.