Counseling center grapples with rising demand for services

By Melissa Schill

To meet Wheaton’s increasing student demand for counseling services, the counseling center has hired new staff members and a new director, Karen Hurula. Hurula is assuming the role after former director Toussaint Whetstone was appointed interim Dean of Counseling and Wellness.

Having additional staff members has allowed the center to offer more hours of service to more students. As of now, 277 Wheaton students have received on-campus counseling compared to 246 students at this time last fall.

The counseling center hired a full-time therapist and four part-time therapists to create more appointment times by overlapping their hours, along with six graduate students working toward their degree in counseling as trainees.

“We are doing everything we can to keep these offices full of staff so that we’re seeing as many students as possible,” Hurula said.

On average, the office sees five to six students for intake appointments per day. An intake is a diagnostic appointment that allows students to meet with a counselor and vocalize their issues or concerns.

The staff meet once a week to evaluate the 30-35 weekly intake appointments together and assign clients to counselors that match their needs and schedule requests. Currently students must wait 10-14 days for an intake appointment because the center only allows a set number of intake appointments per day.

“There was a rumor that we had a three-week wait but it’s not true,” Hurula said. “It might feel like a three-week wait if we’re telling you it’s longer than you want to wait. I can understand that frustration that there’s not always daily openings.”

According to a 2018 survey conducted by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors (AUCCCD), 24.6 percent of schools with a similar enrollment to Wheaton now have to place students on a waitlist. Wheaton’s counseling center reports that it still has availability for intake appointments.

In an email exchange with the Record, one anonymous junior said she contacted the counseling center about setting up an intake appointment. “The staff took down my information and told me I would receive an email for intake appointment date options at least two weeks in the future,” she said. “I never received a follow-up email or call from them and still have yet to visit the counseling center.”

Walk-in appointments are available for students in the event of an emergency. For example, one anonymous sophomore experienced high emotional distress after a car accident earlier this month. Rather than waiting to go through the intake process, she opted for a walk-in appointment and received help from a therapist later that day.

“I appreciated that someone was available to talk to me. It felt slightly rushed, but my counselor walked me through some relaxation techniques and gave me a worksheet to help me process some thoughts,” she said.

According to Whetstone, the increased demand for mental and emotional health services at Wheaton reflects national trends on college campuses. He recently attended the AUCCCD conference and found the statistics presented were very similar to those at Wheaton.

For example, the AUCCCD reported that anxiety and depression are the most prevalent mental health concerns for students nationwide — 47 percent of students receive counseling from their college suffer from anxiety and 40 percent suffer from depression. Likewise, Whetstone reported these were the most prevalent mental health concerns on Wheaton’s campus.

“Hopefully it’s not so much that everything is just getting worse,” Hurula said. “I think that we, as a society, are getting more comfortable talking about mental health and not sweeping things under the rug or pretending we’re fine.”

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