Director of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) Ronald Albucher presented recent improvements to the mental health organization on Jan. 20 at a town hall meeting. Albucher and his staff addressed student concerns in an effort to open the conversation about mental health services on campus.
Albucher outlined the events of what he referred to as the “difficult” past year for the counseling center. According to Albucher, a number of clinicians left their positions at CAPS last year for reasons including retirement, medical illness, maternity leave and other job opportunities, leaving CAPS “pretty much … maxed out in terms of services [it] could offer for the numbers of students coming in.”
This lack of resources and staff prolonged the already lengthy and thorough hiring process for new staff. Consequently, students were experiencing wait times of three weeks or longer for standard appointments. According to Albucher, however, wait times have dropped to an average of seven days for this past fall quarter.
As of now, all open positions have been filled, including those of three former counselors who were instrumental in reaching out to the African-American community on campus. Five specialized clinicians were hired for facilitating mental health outreach and support within the African-American community.
In addition, supplementary funding was used to create new positions, including that of a licensed clinical social worker. This part-time staff member coordinates referrals to local private psychologists for students seeking treatment lasting longer than the average of six to eight weeks of CAPS therapy. Albucher and his staff added, however, that there is no definite CAPS session limit.
Other changes implemented have increased the efficiency of CAPS processes. Phone screening questionnaires, used to match students with appropriate clinicians and appointment types according to the Vaden Health Center, have been shortened.
Despite these improvements, students at the meeting voiced complaints that the short-term psychotherapy model currently used by CAPS fails to provide adequate support for those who are struggling with mental health.
Joe Begovich ’19 spoke about his confusion with the referral process, which he said often consists of students having to “cold-call” a number of different therapists in search of a practice that accepts their insurance. Begovich said that Palo Alto psychologists often charge upwards of $300 per 50-minute session, which students’ insurance plans often cannot cover.
“It’s incredibly traumatic for people to first do a phone triage with someone they don’t know, then start with another counselor,” Begovich said. “Then, after two, three or four sessions, they have to go cold-call 10 to 15 people … and by the end of this process, they could have gone through five-plus counselors.”
Begovich added that it can be difficult for students to arrange transportation off campus.
Anonymous concerns submitted in the days leading up to the meeting also brought to light the need for graduate students in roles like teaching assistants (TAs) to be trained in handling situations regarding students’ mental health. One graduate student, Wendy Ni, recounted the lack of mental health guidance in her own experience as a TA.
“I’ve TA’d twice and I have not received any information on what to do if my students have a mental health problem,” Ni said.
In response, Albucher and the CAPS staff emphasized a desire to bridge the gap between the organization and the student body by encouraging interest in joining the new student advisory board set to meet each month. The advisory board is intended to give students an opportunity to provide feedback to CAPS staff and to help resolve issues in mental health services on campus. Additionally, CAPS emphasized an ongoing goal to prioritize outreach and work with student groups on campus to get rid of barriers related to healthcare accessibility.
“Mental health on campus is not a CAPS-only issue, and I think to put the focus on CAPS and put the responsibility on CAPS in that way misses out on the potential for collaboration and creativity and so many other areas,” Albucher said. “CAPS will never be able to do it all by itself.”