Like most organizations and departments on campus, the University’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) has had to completely rethink the way they engage with students this semester. While students used to be able to access mental health care and attend workshops in the CAPS office in Davison Health Center, services are now only available virtually. Despite the physical separation between clinicians and those seeking mental health support, CAPS staff are working to create new sites of connection.
For one-on-one therapy, connection in the age of COVID-19 is achieved through a virtual platform called Doxy ME. CAPS Director Dr. Jennifer D’Andrea explained that Doxy ME is a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)-secure software that allows virtual therapy sessions to take place, without students having to worry that their privacy might be violated.
While Doxy ME allows students to connect with therapists safely from their own space, it is not a perfect solution.
“The limitations are, of course, that we cannot do therapy with people who are out of state, our licenses limit us to doing therapy—both individual and group therapy—with people who are in the state of Connecticut,” D’Andrea said.
Mental Health Education and Prevention Coordinator Angie Makomenaw explained that CAPS continues to offer an on-call crisis service to students who are outside of Connecticut, which helps connect them to mental health care in their area. She also noted that students who are not on campus have the opportunity to attend non-clinical educational workshops online.
CAPS Postdoctoral Fellow Dr. Kelsea Visalli, who runs a workshop on intuitive eating for athletes, said that she has been trying to reach more students this semester by creating YouTube videos.
“For our out of state students I’ve tried to kind of do two things: one is to do videos, so there are a few on intuitive eating and just kind of mindfulness skills, and then there are some others just on coping with quarantine, finding motivation, and you can find that, the tag is just @doctor.kelseyvisalli,” Visalli explained. “That’s something that all students can access regardless of where they’re located.”
Visalli also worked with Clinical Extern Tania Alaby-Varma, M.S. to put together a webinar for intuitive eating, in hopes that students who were not able to attend the four-week workshop could still access information about mindfulness and eating.
YouTube is not the only social media platform that CAPS is using in order to expand their outreach to students this semester. Assistant Director of Training and Assessment Dr. Smith Kidkarndee explained that CAPS has expanded their Facebook page, (Wesleyan CAPS) as well as their Instagram page (@wesleyancaps) in hopes of making information on workshops and webinars more readily available. CAPS also added a new subheading to their website, titled “CAPS At Home,” that students can use to navigate resources and watch videos and webinars.
Kidkarndee explained that these efforts are part of the larger commitment to providing students with as much support as possible.
“We try to collaborate with other departments, trying to facilitate this ongoing community of care,” Kidkarndee said.
Another top priority for CAPS this semester is addressing the absence of Black clinicians on their staff, a concern that Ujamaa’s Letter to the Administration brought to the attention of the University community. Makomenaw explained that CAPS is working hard to go above and beyond Ujamaa’s demands.
“We want to do more than is being asked,” Makomenaw said. “Yes, we should definitely have a clinician that identifies as African American or Black and can work with trauma experience, absolutely, hands down. But we should also do more as a team so that when we get that member, that member feels comfortable, and in a safe space, and in the community as well. So working as a collective, not only within the CAPS office, but with other offices.”
D’Andrea added that CAPS has implemented drop-in support spaces for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous People of Color) and allies this semester.
“In recognition that our BIPOC students are being particularly affected by national and global events, we are offering two spaces per week specifically for these student communities so they can come together to provide and receive support,” D’Andrea wrote in an email to the Argus. “Only staff of color will facilitate these spaces. Two spaces per week are designated for student allies, and students attending these sessions will be able to receive support for themselves as well as talk more about how to be effective allies for BIPOC students.”
These drop-in spaces will be offered frequently throughout the semester.
“Two spaces per week will be offered as general drop-in sessions for all members of the Wesleyan community to come together,” D’Andrea wrote. “One of these sessions will involve structured mindfulness/meditation, and the other will be unstructured general support.”
Drop-in spaces like these—as well as more structured workshops—have become instrumental for CAPS as they address the many challenges COVID-19, racist violence, and the upcoming election pose for students, alongside the usual stressors of college life.
Dr. Ginnie Taylor explained that she has expanded her “Fostering Intuitive Eating for Mental Health,” workshop this year due to a rise in the number of interested students.
“[The need for intuitive eating] has become even more pressing with quarantine and stress around food specifically, and we did receive such a record amount of responses to this space, so we actually added two sections because we’re trying to accommodate everybody that responded to the initial mailing about it,” Taylor explained.
CAPS workshops and support spaces cover a range of other topics as well. Kidkarndee is leading two workshops this semester: “RIO,” or “Recognition, Insight and Openness,” a three-session workshop that combines mindfulness and action oriented skills to help people negotiate discomfort and distress, as well as “I Am: Soul and Tell,” with Clinical Extern Sara Jalbert, M.A.
“I Am: Soul and Tell” is a five-session workshop designed to be a creative space for students to share artwork.
“It’s a great opportunity for students who would rather not engage in a more verbal expressive way of engaging in the world, for students or folks who are much more comfortable creating,” Kidarndee said. “We plan to use photography as part of show and tell, you can share a piece of artwork somehow—it could be a song, it could be a dance, it could be a spoken word piece, etc. in which students can bring into a space and kind of share as a community.”
While some of the workshops that CAPS offers this semester have been running regularly for several years, others are new. Neal Sardana L.P.C., who runs the FGLI (First-Generation Low-Income) Drop-In Support Space, said that he created this workshop in collaboration with the Resource Center last semester, and has decided to continue it.
“After really checking in with the Resource Center again and considering FGLI student needs, we decided to continue the space virtually,” Sardana explained.
Sardana added that the FGLI support space offers a different kind of mental health care than individual therapy.
“The goal is for students to have a different way of accessing mental health support,” Sardana said. “It’s different from individual therapy where they’re actually going to be able to gain support from each other, build community. So that’s what the other goal is, gaining support. Building community and also providing psychoeducation. The idea is that the students will kind of bring in the topics, about what they’re kind of dealing with, and through that that will be what we talk about, and then I can build in psychoeducation around that.”
Other CAPS workshops offered this semester include a group called “Back at Wes” hosted by Priya Senecal L.P.C., the “CAPS Literary Salon” hosted by Tamanna Rahmann, Psychiatric A.P.R.N. and Doctoral Extern Jonathan Perlow, and the Student Athlete Support Network, facilitated by Jennie Setaro, L.P.C.
CAPS clinicians encouraged students to visit their Facebook page and website for more information about their workshops, especially given the excessive stress of this semester.
“We have been very busy at CAPS this semester, both with individual therapy as well as group therapy and workshop offerings,” D’Andrea wrote in an email to the Argus. “While it is true we have had low attendance at a few of our workshops, demand for individual services has been strong and consistent and most of our group offerings have been well attended. In particular, over the past two weeks we have seen an increase in requests for individual therapy, which we believe is a reflection of increased distress coupled with pandemic fatigue and isolation.”
Emma Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.