Counseling center faced with backup


Photo by Morgan Cook | The Appalachian

Tommy Culkin

This semester, the Appalachian State University Counseling Center has seen a sharp increase in patients, leading to a backup greater than most semesters.

As of fall break, the counseling center had 17 more walk-ins looking for an assessment than they’d had at the same time last year. There was a 25 percent increase in the number of counseling sessions, with 191 more than there had been at the same time last semester. The center also had experienced a 32 percent increase in after-hours emergency phone calls.

Dan Jones, the director of counseling and psychological services said as of Nov. 18, the counseling center had approximately 30 people on its waiting list who had yet to be seen.

However, the length a student would have to wait varies depending on the severity of the student’s needs.

“It would not just be some clear-cut answer as to how long the wait would be,” Jones said. “If you were suicidal, or homicidal, or you’d been raped – you’d be urgent. Those highest-level people would be seen within a few days.”

Jones said despite the backup, everybody on the waiting list will have the chance to be seen at least once.

The problem, Jones said, is that it’s difficult to see everyone as quickly as they’d like because they have to accommodate the students’ schedules as well as preference in therapists.

One way the counseling center has been helping students get care quickly is by referring them to private practices, if possible.

“Sometimes people come in [the counseling center] and we tell them it could take two weeks for us to get you to ongoing counseling, but we have a list of private providers in the community,” Jones said. “We tell them they can choose to wait two weeks to see a therapist here, or we can give you the name of a private therapist who might be able to see you within a few days.”

The counseling center also holds group therapy sessions, which Jones said help alleviate the waiting list.

“I think [group therapy sessions] do help the waiting list, because they allow you to see more students in a time-efficient way, but research supports the notion that group therapy is equal to the effects of individual therapy,” Jones said.

The counseling center currently employs nine psychologists, one social worker who works as a referral coordinator, one post-doctoral fellow and three interns.

“The university is being very generous in giving us staff, but the numbers of students coming to counseling centers tend to exceed the staff and resources in a lot of centers,” Jones said. “It’s a national trend.”

However, Matt Dull, the vice chancellor of student development said the tuition committee approved a new counselor and a new case manager for the 2015-2016 school year.

The counseling center and Psychological Services also hold suicide prevention training workshops. These workshops educate attendees on suicide statistics, what the warning signs are and what to do if you notice the warning signs in somebody.

Story: Thomas Culkin, News Reporter