The 2014 National Survey of College Counseling Centers conducted by the American College Counseling Association revealed that a majority of universities have seen an increase in the number of students who use their counseling services, but few have added enough staff to meet the demand.
The Stony Brook University mental health facility is called Counseling and Psychological Services, or CAPS. CAPS offers a variety of services including individual therapy, group psychotherapy, a mindful meditation program and a WUSB radio segment called “Taking Care of Yourself.”
When asked about how they felt about CAPS, several students, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they used CAPS services, said that their biggest complaint is the limit on how many individual therapy sessions each person is allotted every year.
One freshman math major said, “If they didn’t restrict how often I could use the service, I would probably start using it.”
With a 10-12 session limit for a 30 week time period, many students said they did not think that one session every three weeks or so would be enough.
The interim Director of the CAPS program, Dr. Julian Pessier, explained that the session limit is not necessarily due to funding issues, as is the case with many other colleges, but rather because it is the best method for students because it gives them the guidance they need while teaching them how to better deal with their issues when they cannot be seen regularly.
“If we know that a student does needs regular weekly counseling for a prolonged period of time, the best thing we can do for them is get them in touch with a good community resource,” Pessier said. “It’s a common misunderstanding that if you go to CAPS they will just refer you to somebody else. However we will refer a student if it’s seen as necessary.”
When asked why it was better for some students to see an off-campus psychologist, he said, “A lot of our staff, some of the our students’ favorite staff members even, are either just finishing their doctoral studies, are psychology interns or are psychology post-doctoral fellows on a one-year placement. If a student does need regular counseling, it would make more sense to set them up with a private practice that will likely exist five years down the road, rather than pair them with a therapist that will be gone next year.”
It is true, however, that there is not an unlimited amount of funding for the program, and there is not an unlimited amount of space either.
“I feel like we’re staffed very well, but the same way a diner gets very crowded during certain times of the day, there are times during the year when a lot more students find that they need counseling, Pessier said. “If there were no limit, there would be no way to accommodate everybody who needs help.”
In an attempt to help students depend less on individual therapy sessions, there has been a shift in how the CAPS has gone about helping larger groups of people. According to Pessier, there are about 250 students per year who now participate in group therapy. There is also the mindful meditation program in which any student can participate at 1 p.m. every Wednesday, during campus lifetime.
A freshman biology major explained that “even if there is anonymity within the groups, it isn’t possible to make sure that nobody will tell other people who participates in therapy.”
Even with all of the measures CAPS takes to protect private information, there is still concern from students regarding people finding out they use the resource.
While such programs have helped reduce the number of students who need more support, CAPS has acknowledged that the number of students who utilize their personal therapy services has continued to grow over time, and they have adjusted their staff proportionally.
“In the past 10 years, there has been an almost double in how many students come to CAPS for help, from 900 ten years ago, to 1700 today,” Pessier said.
When asked why he thought so many more students need help, Pessier said, “I don’t necessarily think that more students need help nowadays than in the past. It isn’t a hard science that we can go to for a definitive answer, but I think a lot of it is the decreased stigma surrounding the need for psychological help. We go to every measure to protect student privacy, and to make appropriate accommodations when needed.”
Though many students complained about session limits, many also said that something they thought CAPS does very well is make students feel welcome. One freshman marine biology major explained that “when I first got here and learned about the programs and resources available, I thought CAPS did a good job making students feel like it was okay to use them if necessary.”
“Yes, more students do pursue help, but our job isn’t just therapy,” Pessier said. “It’s also directing people to other resources that they might find helpful.”