Counseling Center Lacks Sufficient Resources for Students

Lorah Steichen

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Illustration by Eddy Vazquez

College students are typically under a range of pressures and subject to immense amounts of stress that can take a toll on their mental health. According to Counseling Center Director Thacher Carter, over a quarter of the Whitman student population is currently utilizing counseling resources on campus. 

In the 2011-2012 school year, over 27 percent of students used the Counseling Center resources compared to the national average where nine to 12 percent of students at small colleges sought counseling services.

“Whitman’s student body, mentally, isn’t that healthy,” said sophomore Ali Holmes. “I think that is just because of the stress and the rigor of the Whitman environment, which is something that we all signed up for obviously, but I believe that that is a contributing factor.”

Use of the Counseling Center has recently increased dramatically. Over the past several years, the Counseling Center has served 30 additional students per year. An investigation by The Pioneerlast semester revealed that many Whitman students with mental health issues suffer in silence due to stigma. Students are left to rely on the Counseling Center, which has limited resources to help students suffering with mental health issues.

Due to the increased use of the center, many students report difficulties accessing the center’s services. Even though the Counseling Center has eight “drop-in” hours each week where students can speak with a counselor without an appointment, attending such session does not guarantee immediate care.

“Drop-in hours get really full, so you have to get there really early because not very many can be seen during drop-in hours. So one time I came and there was no space. But I filled out a form anyway … I couldn’t see someone right away, but it wasn’t that long of a wait. It was about a week,” said junior Ellen Cambron.

Sophomore Katy Wills had to attend multiple drop-in hours before she was able to see a counselor. Once this preliminary evaluation was complete, it was several weeks before she was able to return for a second session.

“I couldn’t even get in during drop-in hours. I sat there for over an hour on the off chance that they could squeeze me in to no avail. I came back to the next drop-in time but decided to call first to gauge how busy it was” said Wills in an email. “They assured me I’d get in because I couldn’t the last time, which meant that I was taking a drop-in spot from someone else, which was unfortunate. After that appointment during the drop-in time, they told me they could fit me in in three weeks every other week.”

Several students who spoke with The Pioneer believed persistence was required in order to gain access to counseling services and a regular time slot. While most felt that they were able to gain access to counseling in a somewhat timely manner, some said this came after weeks of waiting and unanswered emails. The nature of some of the problems some of these students face, however, is in direct opposition to this requirement. It’s hard enough to reach out, and when someone isn’t responding, it’s easy to become defeated.

“After my first appointment I was told I would be matched to a counselor and be informed of my regular session time as soon as possible. However, I was forced to recontact the Counseling Center in order to begin regular appointments. I waited a few weeks without response and had almost given up on the idea of going back at all before finally working up the courage to email the counselor I had met with in my preliminary appointment,” said sophomore Emily Carrick.

In order to address the increased demand for counseling services at Whitman, the Counseling Center has made a budget request through the Student Affairs Office that would allocate funds for an additional counselor. The increased position would not only help alleviate the stresses that the center has encountered in recent years, but would also provide a counselor that would be able to specifically serve minority populations at Whitman. A recent ASWC resolution further supported the creation of this position and included that in the 2006-2007 school year, 17 percent of the visits to the counseling center were from students of color and 21 percent of the student body was comprised of students of color.

“The request was made because of the need to build infrastructure to meet the needs of the underrepresented populations on campus,” said Carter in an email. “While all Counseling Center therapists are generalists, we are specifically seeking a candidate who is a generalist but with extra experience in providing therapy and outreach to underrepresented/underserved student populations.”

The results of this budget request will not be actualized until February of 2014 when the Board of Trustees passes the annual budget.

Many students are not satisfied with the current counseling resources. The academic and social pressures of Whitman sometimes result in students reaching out for help, but the spread-thin Counseling Center cannot provide enough support to everyone.

“Whitman can’t stick us in this hyper-stressful pressure cooker of academics on top of whatever personal battles we’re fighting and then leave us stranded without the resources to help us cope with the inevitable stress,” said Wills. “It is the responsibility of the trustees and the president’s budget advisory council to allocate sufficient funds to the Counseling Center so they can hire enough counselors to fit the students’ needs.”

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