This article is the fourth and final piece in a mini-series examining Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and how it has responded to increased community scrutiny.
A new director is not the only change on the horizon for Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). As it enters a new school year, CAPS will increase its number of staff, satellite locations and alternatives to one-on-one therapy sessions, among other initiatives.
Previous criticism of CAPS has focused on long wait times and areas for growth in its services for certain subsets of students. The changes CAPS has planned for the fall will seek to address the concerns of particular student populations while increasing the mental health resource’s capacity to serve the student body as a whole.
CAPS will open a new satellite clinic at Kingscote Gardens, an area currently under renovation near the Faculty Club, in August. Other services addressing mental health and related issues that will be housed at Kingscote include the Confidential Support Team (CST), the Office of Sexual Assault & Relationship Abuse Education & Response (SARA), the Faculty Help Center, the Title IX Office and more. While mental health care for students needing more than just one or two visits will continue to be handled at Vaden Health Center, Director of Vaden James Jacobs foresees Kingscote addressing shorter-term aid in light of data showing most students only visit CAPS once.
CAPS’ number of employees has stayed roughly constant for the past two years, and according to Jacobs, the Kingscote expansion will address one of the primary constraints on CAPS’ ability to add staff: space. Accordingly, next academic year, CAPS will also add either two full-time psychologists or the equivalent of that in part-time positions. CAPS may increase its psychiatry capacity too, Jacobs said.
Outgoing CAPS director Ron Albucher, who will step down next fall, has also envisioned Kingscote alleviating the lack of intermediate-length care options for students. Since 81 percent of students who use CAPS attend fewer than five sessions, and CAPS has to refer students needing more than a dozen or so visits to local clinicians. Intermediate care would be tailored towards those students needing care for a period of up to three quarters. Due to funding constraints, however, intermediate care will not be offered at Kingscote in the following year.
Jacobs also suggested that CAPS will try to offer more group therapy the future. In the past, groups have addressed a variety of student needs such as acquiring mindfulness skills, managing anxiety and processing grief.
“Historically Stanford students have apparently not been completely receptive to groups,” Jacobs said. “But this quarter we’ve piloted … the RIO groups, and they’ve been enormously successful and popular.”
RIO Skills Groups are weekly workshops for both undergraduates and graduates coping with mood and anxiety symptoms.
However, one student who wished to remain anonymous disagreed about the efficacy of group therapy. When the student reached out to CAPS after the death of a grandfather, CAPS offered the options of waiting for an appointment or attending a grief group.
“After some really bad experience with group therapy in the past, I wasn’t really inclined to go,” the student said.
CAPS also offers support groups tailored towards the needs of graduate students. Along with student-initiated groups, these have focused on problems that graduate students may otherwise face alone, from family stresses to isolation induced by working in a lab all day.
A potential new group focused on the stresses associated with writing dissertations is currently under discussion, Jacobs said. Students have previously advocated for similar services addressing common challenges graduate students face, including acquiring research positions, obtaining funding and preparing for long-term projects.
“The other thing we worry about with grad students is their relationship with their advisors,” Jacobs added. “If they don’t approve their dissertation proposal, if they don’t let them work on the sexy project … there’s huge politics involved for grad students.”
Other existing group therapy initiatives address the needs of marginalized groups such as the Native American community.
“We’ll never be to the point where most students are doing [therapy] in group,” Jacobs said. “But … it decreases the wait time and decreases the demand on constantly trying to increase the size of the staff.”
Despite CAPS currently surpassing national standards for staff numbers, wait times remain as high as three weeks at busy times.
One reason for this is that national standards do not take into account increasing demands for outreach, Jacobs said. According to him, outreach may decrease CAPS staff’s ability to see students individually. Yet outreach, Jacob hopes, may also mitigate the need for one-on-one sessions if done effectively.
Besides creating support groups for specific communities, CAPS has also provided outreach through on-site counseling services. This year it expanded counseling to the Bechtel International Center and the Diversity and First-Gen Office (DGEN). These are in addition to services offered at other community centers including the Markaz, the Women’s Community Center and the LGBT Community Resource Center.
This year saw an increased demand for counseling among students from marginalized groups. In response, the Undergraduate Senate urged CAPS in March to offer more on-site counseling at community centers and housing front desks.
As CAPS considers expanding counseling in the next year, it will have to factor in constraints such as students’ desire for privacy and space needs. The former constraint ended counseling in the dorms last year.
“Our therapists were actually going to dinner with the dorm,” Albucher said. “People didn’t want that much closeness from our therapists so we stopped doing [counseling in the dorms].”
Looking ahead, CAPS will also join the rest of campus in submitting ideas to the University’s recently launched long-range planning process. Jacobs said the process provides an opportunity for CAPS to reevaluate, for example, what he called a Student Affairs approach that segregates its offerings for students from the University’s mental health programs for faculty and staff.
One option for moving beyond that Student Affairs focus that CAPS has considered proposing to long-range planning committees involves expanding BeWell, a faculty-staff wellness program, to incorporate students.
“Maybe if we thought more holistically … it might increase opportunities for students, “ Jacobs said.
Contact Miguel Samano at msamano ‘at’ stanford.edu.