Counseling center needs clearer communications

by Editorial Board / Beacon Staff • October 31, 2013

At issue: Students say counseling center doesn’t provide enough time

Our take: The center needs to be clear about its capabilities and limitations

Emerson’s Counseling and Psychological Services has a problem. Although students who sought therapy through the school are satisfied with the quality of the counselors, some said they found the counselors’ availability lacking.

One simple solution to this problem is to hire more counselors. After all, if the existing counselors can’t satisfy student needs, the college should just add more to accommodate the demand. Although the college meets the counselor-to-student ratio set by the International Association of Counseling Services, we shouldn’t be getting by with the bare minimum. And Elise Harrison, director of counseling and psychological services, agreed. She said the counseling center will soon add a part-time psychiatrist, and will consider hiring more staff if appointments continue to increase, something she said she expects. Dean of Students Ronald Ludman also said the college will seek an outside review of its counseling services.

But there seems to be a more fundamental issue in play: a critical mismatch in the ways students and staff understand the counseling center’s role.

Some students seem to believe that Emerson’s counselors would be available for weekly, long-term appointments—not an unreasonable assumption. Yet counseling facilities at colleges, including Emerson, simply may not be equipped to provide continuing therapy. Harrison said “college counseling centers aren’t designed for anything more than short-term therapy,” a belief affirmed by Emmanuel College’s assistant director of mental health services, Kenneth Rogers. Emmanuel’s counseling center, said Rogers, generally only sees infrequent visits or emergencies, like Emerson’s.

If this is the case, though, the disconnect between the counseling center’s role, and how the student body perceives it, needs to be eliminated.

Since some students have expectations that exceed what the center can provide, it is up to the staff to clarify the facility’s actual capabilities. It should communicate to students that its services are only meant to treat very specific problems—like with roommates or grades—not those that would require frequent sessions. If students have unreasonable expectations of what the center provides, the college should provide more accessible information so students realize the center’s role.

Of course, the counseling center should also be open to potentially providing long-term therapy. Students’ mental health is paramount to their college success. If the counseling center can somehow better serve students, Emerson can certainly buck the trend of other colleges that only provide short-term counseling. Because for many of us, Emerson is our community, our home—and we shouldn’t push away those who most need our support.