Wesleyan Student Assembly members Elizabeth Shackney ’17, Carter Deane ’18, and Nila Ravi ’18, along with Isabel Alter ’17 recently drafted a resolution to increase staffing for Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) on campus. WSA members Evelysse Vargas ’17 and Isabel Linzer ’17 and the Student Athlete Advisory Committee also sponsored the resolution.
At the WSA meeting on Sunday, April 12, the resolution was supported unanimously with 19 votes, with zero members abstaining.
Prior to writing the resolution, the writers posted a survey on Wesleying to gauge student experiences with CAPS. The data collected demonstrated that the University’s situation is consistent with national trends, reflecting an increase in students reporting serious mental health issues and/or being treated with antidepressants and the guidance of mental health professionals.
In over 20 responses from University students regarding their experiences with CAPS, 77 percent cited an urgent need for an increase in services. In general, demand for individual counseling has increased by 30 percent since the 2010-11 academic year in both number of students and number of visits without a significant increase in capacity for CAPS itself.
Shackney spoke to commonalities in the student responses collected.
“What we hear over and over again is that it’s very hard to get an appointment, and it’s very hard to change therapists,” Shackney said. “It can even be hard to get a crisis appointment.”
Crisis appointment availability was updated this year to add 10 more appointments to each week, for a total of 30 appointments. Despite this change, all crisis appointments are filled each week, and students in crisis sometimes have to wait up to a week before visiting the office, and up to three weeks for students seeking an intake appointment.
The resolution specifically points out that, because severe cases are made top priority, mild and moderate cases can be pushed aside without increased staffing. Though aware of student-run resources such as 8-to-8 and other support groups, some students—whether or not their situation is severe—seek professional help.
Director of CAPS Dr. Jennifer D’Andrea, who has run the center since 2011, pointed to the Americans with Disabilities Act and the increased availability of psychotropic medication, which have made it possible for students with significant mental health struggles to attend universities, as two main factors in increasing student demand.
She addressed the issues presented in the student resolution directly.
“There is no question that demand for our services increases every year,” D’Andrea wrote in an email to The Argus. “As a result of the increased demand for individual therapy as well as the growing numbers of students with serious emotional struggles, CAPS has not been able to meet the demand for quick intake appointments and weekly therapy visits in spite of our increase in staff this year.”
Shackney, who is currently the chair of the Community Committee of the WSA, decided to collaborate with Deane and Ravi, both of whom are involved with Student Affairs, as well as Alter, who is an active member of the University community.
Alter described her initial understanding of the situation.
“I had been talking to a lot of people about the issues that they saw in CAPS and it seemed…really universal,” Alter said. “People who I talked to in really different social groups and really different campus activities…[all] thought it was a problem…I was really interested in finding a way that we could tell the school that we really wanted to see change there.”
Ultimately, the resolution calls for one new full-time therapist and another full-time employee to spend half their time clinically—conducting therapy sessions—and the other half of their time doing education and outreach. That person would specialize in diversity and inclusion issues, particularly reaching out to marginalized communities on campus.
The resolution itself states that the queer community in particular has expressed an urgent need for psychological services, which is why the writers emphasized that one of the new hires should be specifically equipped to reach out to all members of the student body.
Increased staff would also allow for more flexibility for students in terms of their chosen therapist. Many respondents reported feeling uninformed about their ability to switch therapists or fearing increased wait times if they felt uncomfortable in their initial session.
Shackney elaborated on the need for an increase in therapist availability as well as campus outreach.
“Demand has definitely gone up in the past few years, and CAPS has spent more time on education, outreach and prevention,” Shackney said. “[That’s] great…but it also takes time away from…individual therapy sessions. We think it’s important to get more people in there to accommodate student demand.”
D’Andrea later explained some changes CAPS has already made to treat as many students as possible.
“In addition to the new staff we welcomed this year, we began an externship training program in the 2012-2013 academic year,” D’Andrea wrote. “We have 4 part-time doctoral trainees this year who provide individual therapy to students. This semester, we have expanded our crisis appointments to 6 per day, and we have created a new type of appointment called ‘urgent intake,’ which is a 30-minute space for students who may not be in crisis, but who feel they cannot wait until the next full intake appointment. We have also expanded our group and workshop offerings—this semester we are running 3 workshops and 4 groups.”
In the resolution itself, the writers cite the University’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in its mission statement as consistent with their ultimate goal of increased student support.
Alter spoke specifically about the relationship between CAPS, the WSA, and most specifically the resolution.
“I talked to Dr. D’Andrea and the people who are involved with CAPS and heard that their concerns are really [similar] to the concerns of the students,” Alter said. ”Everyone is worried about the same things. This isn’t just a [University] issue, it’s a national issue, and we should really be out ahead of this and making changes that will be best for our community.”
D’Andrea expressed a similar sentiment about the relationship between CAPS and the students behind this resolution.
“CAPS has been successful in the past in receiving approval for new money requests so we can add new clinicians, which is wonderful,” D’Andrea wrote. “While I am not certain we will be able to add more staff in the near future, I remain hopeful about it and am grateful for the advocacy of the students.”
Shackney also emphasized the need for student activism in addressing issues on campus. Her partnership with Alter, who is not on the WSA, makes this resolution especially unique.
“I think this is how a resolution should work,” Shackney said. “[It] involves reaching out to people like [Alter], who are not on the WSA…[but] in the community, reaching across different committees with different interests, and then pulling out all the stops in terms of speaking with administration in order to make it actually happen.”
Shackney and Alter met with Vice President for Student Affairs Michael Whaley on Thursday, April 16 to discuss the resolution in more detail and emphasize the campus-wide support behind it. They expect staffing changes, if approved by the administration at large, to be put in place by the 2016/17 academic year.