Counseling center struggles with lack of counselors

James Vaughn

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Junior criminal justice major LaNikitah Harris struggled with stress and anxiety before she started attending counseling sessions at the USI Counseling Center. She said she’s a happier person thanks to them.

“I do not know where I would be right now without the assistance of my amazing counselor,” Harris said. “She has helped me tremendously.”

Students at USI are currently waiting three weeks to a month to meet with a counselor.

Harris said there was one instance when she had to wait two weeks to see a counselor.

“I had to think about the other people who need counseling, as well,” Harris said.

The Counseling Center was left with two counselors and one director after Leslie Smith, former Assistant Director of the Counseling Center who served as a counselor at USI for 23 years, left before the start of the semester to take a job at Vincennes University.

 

“Over the years, I carried both a full counseling load and, at the time of my departure, worked with over 350 students with disabilities,” Smith said.

Smith said she was busy at USI because there were too few counselors and because disability services is in the same office as counseling services, which is not the case at Vincennes. On national average, 10 percent of a student population uses counseling services, Smith said.

“You must have an adequate number of counselors to meet those needs,” Smith said. “That just isn’t very feasible with only 2 counselors and one director.”

The university is currently collecting applications and forming a search committee in order to fill the position. They’re hoping to bring someone on board soon, said Counseling Center Director Thomas Longwell. 

“In the meantime, we’re still meeting all service needs because, well, life doesn’t stop,” Longwell said. 

Anyone with disabilities who needs assistance is currently meeting with him, he said. Longwell said it is a challenge trying to accommodate all of the students who need assistance.

Students are experiencing longer waits than he would like to see and the Counseling Center is trying to formulate ways to balance the need, he said.

One way they’ve attempted the balance is by bolstering the group therapy program, he said.

“It’s a great intervention, not just because it allows us to see more students, but it’s become an intervention of choice for students that are having difficulties in interpersonal relationships,” Longwell said.

For students who are too distressed to be wait-listed, Longwell said there is always a counselor on-call for emergencies.

Longwell said any student who walks through the door is asked whether or not the situation they are in is an emergency.

“If someone comes in and says they have an urgent need, they’re in crisis, they cannot cope or they’re having thoughts about suicide, we will see them right at that moment,” Longwell said.

He said the wait is definitely longer than he’d like to see, but compared to various other community resources, the waiting time is fairly decent.

“If you went to any kind of outside resource, you’d be lucky to get an appointment a month from now,” Longwell said.

The Counseling Center is doing everything it can with what it has, he said. Longwell said the counseling center is still hoping to obtain accreditation.

“It’s a long-term goal,” Longwell said. “It’s one thing for me to say that I think we’re doing well, which I think we are, by the way – but it’s more beneficial if we’re told by a large body that we’re doing what we need to do.”

Based on universities who participated in the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors (AUCCCD) survey, the national average staff size for counseling centers at four-year public universities with 10,000 to 15,000 students was 6.68 in 2011.

Accreditation standards recommend a counseling center have one counselor for every 1,000 to 1,500 students. Currently, the counselor-to-student ratio at USI is one counselor for every 3,490 students.

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