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Monday, June 1, 2020

Student to staff ratio poor in counseling center

With the student population growing, Western’s Counseling Center is having a hard time keeping up with demand.

Western’s Counseling Center currently employs 18 staff members, but only nine are full-time clinical staff. These nine full-time staff members are the mental health professionals who work with students and provide clinical services.

The International Association of Counseling Services recommends counseling centers to keep staffing ratios in the range of one clinical staff member for every 1,000 to 1,500 students. Non-clinical professional staff members don’t count towards the ratio.

That means that with a student population of 15,332, Western’s Counseling Center has a ratio of one clinical staff member for every 1,703.5 students, which is above the recommendation.

“This is a good problem for a counseling center to have, I am very pleased and proud of our Western students, that they believe in mental health and they believe in accessing our services.”

Shari Robinson

“According to the standards, right now we should have at least 14 [counselors],” said Shari Robinson, director of Western’s Counseling Center. “We would see the wait time to access our services decrease and also increase the [amount of sessions per client].”

Understaffing at the center is due to a lack of resources, Robinson said.

“One of the areas that is probably under resourced is student support services. So counseling center services, healthcare services, academic advising and career services,” Robinson said. “That is a terribly understaffed and under resourced area.”

“Our services are underfunded compared to other four-year institutions in the state,” Dr. Emily Gibson, director of the Student Health Center, said in an email.

The lack of clinical staff members has lead to wait times of one to two weeks before students can get an appointment.

Illustration by Darby Womack
Illustration by Darby Womack

Senior Madeline Thomson, a psychology major, said she believes the lack of student support is concerning and could be having a negative impact on the student population. She said it takes courage to make the first call to the center, and it’s discouraging when they are then put on a waitlist.

“Then when you get that call [back from the center], maybe you don’t have the same amount of courage that you had when you made that first original call and it’s a little bit harder. I think that would be really detrimental,” Thomson said.

In addition to the lack of funding, Robinson said there is another issue that is keeping the center from hiring more staff.

“Western has a space crisis. This institution has grown tremendously in the last 20 years, but the facilities have not kept up with growth of the student population. [Even] if I was given another salary line, I have no room,” Robinson said.

Gibson echoed the same belief.

“We need more qualified clinicians and due to limited space, we would need to expand our hours of availability in order to create more appointment times for students to be seen,” Gibson said.

Robinson is currently trying to find a way around the space crisis by working on another system where counselors can be placed around Western’s campus. She calls it the embedded counselor model.

“[I’m] thinking about embedding counselor positions in Residence Life or in the various colleges,” Robinson said. “There will still be a full-time staff at the Counseling Center, still working under the same policies and procedures except they will be housed in other locations.”

This model still has a long way to go. Robinson is working on the proposal and it would need university approval before it could be implemented.

“This is a good problem for a counseling center to have,” Robinson said. “I am very pleased and proud of our Western students, that they believe in mental health and they believe in accessing our services.”

Robinson believes other universities are still dealing with the stigma surrounding mental health, a stigma that has long been absent at Western.

“This is the reason our services are in such high demand,” Robinson said.


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