Front door of the Counseling Center in Old Main. // Photo by Kevin Lake
By Simon Thomas
In 2013, almost half of university students attended counseling for mental health concerns in the U.S. According to the Center of Collegiate Mental Health, that percentage has been increasing steadily over the past decade.
In order to adjust for growth, the Western Counseling Center has made changes to their system of care.
Christopher Edwards is a psychologist and one of four new members to the senior staff at the center. He said new policies are being put in place this year to deal with the growing number of students in need of services.
“Starting this year, [the center] has started a triage system,” Edwards said. “What that means is someone comes in for initial consultation, those appointments are 15 to 20 minutes and really the purpose there is to help connect them and determine what the best level of care may be.”
Edwards said the center has a case manager who specializes in finding students the right off-campus help when necessary.
Edwards explained that the next step is called an intake, which is a more thorough assessment to get a better understanding of the patient. Then the patient either works with a counselor at the center or is referred to make an appointment with the case manager to set up off-campus care.
“We would re-evaluate at certain points, either at the end of the quarter or an ongoing basis, to see if their symptoms have been reduced or resolved in whatever way of measuring we’d use to track that,” Edwards said.
Help from off-campus sources is most often used in cases where the center has limitations on ways to care for a patient, Edwards explained. He said there are certain services the center doesn’t offer.
“We do not do evaluations, psychological or neuropsychological. So if someone wanted to be evaluated for ADHD or a traumatic brain injury, we would refer them off-campus,” he said.
Edwards added that a student presenting a more severe version of a condition, like an eating disorder or substance abuse, would require comprehensive treatment, and the center would bridge connections to the Student Health Center or off-campus help if necessary. They also do not provide documentation to students for emotional support animals or service animals.
The center has two different counseling positions, Edwards said. There are senior staff members and doctoral interns, who are supervised by the three licensed psychologists at the center.
Edwards said this is their last training experience before they earn their degree.
“They’re very experienced doing psychotherapy and working with college students,” Edwards said.
Out of all the reasons Western students have for going to the Counseling Center, Edwards said that stress, anxiety and symptoms of depression are among the most common.
“Identity exploration, whether that’s your gender identity or sexuality, or just figuring out who you are independent from your family system, are also common concerns,” he said.
Edwards also said that the center works closely with the Student Health Center in order to match their patients with needed care.
“We meet with them once a week for consultation, so that we can share mutual patients and make sure there is wrap-around holistic care and treatment.”
To find out more about the Counseling Center, staff members meet for informal support and consultation at noon on Tuesdays in the Ethnic Student Center.