TAKING STUDENT CONCERNS SERIOUSLY


Finding Solutions

A response from the Student Counseling Center and Student Health Service

BY MARK MCLEOD, DIRECTOR, EMORY STUDENT COUNSELING CENTER, AND JANICE LATOZA, ADMINISTRATIVE DIRECTOR, STUDENT HEALTH SERVICE


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A response from Freshman Advising and Mentoring at Emory


Academic Exchange October/November 2000 Contents Page

We are very happy to add some comments to Kristen Brustad's article based upon her conversations with students. First, we want to thank Dr. Brustad for bringing to the forefront important issues that deserve attention from our community. We would also like to clarify and elaborate on some of the mental health care issues that she mentions.

Dr. Brustad mentions a rise in mental health-related problems across the country. Sadly, we are writing this article the day after a graduate student at the University of Arkansas killed his faculty advisor and himself. Dr. Brustad rightly goes on to say that the fact that these problems are occurring at many universities does not lessen the need to better deal with them at Emory University. And she mentions that the Counseling Center should be given adequate resources in order to better meet this challenge. We could not agree more!

It is important to note, however, that our Counseling Center has received a great deal of support from the administration at least during the tenure of its current director. During that eight-year period, the Center has added two professional staff, along with three full-time psychology interns and two social work interns. We are very grateful to those who supported these increases and made them happen. We would hate to think how our community would have responded to this increasing level of mental health issues without this level of support.

In addition to asking whether adequate resources are available for troubled students, Dr. Brustad questions the coordination of services between the Counseling Center and the Student Health Service. It is true that communication and coordination of services is challenging when the two offices are located so far apart. At least in the area of mental health services, however, it is important to note that the coordination of care between the Student Health Service psychiatrists and therapists at the Counseling Center has improved dramatically and has never been better. The psychiatrists at Student Health provide an invaluable service to the Counseling Center staff and to our community, not just by prescribing medication when necessary, but by offering consultation, follow-up, referral services, and support for mental health emergencies such as with suicidal students.

Dr. Brustad also mentions the important issue of student perceptions of student services. Students often have misperceptions of the Counseling Center, such as the one Dr. Brustad mentioned about reporting on drug abuse. She is correct that in this case, perception is reality and the issue of trust is certainly a critical one for our center. Just for the record, our confidentiality policy, which every student reads before seeing a counselor, states that client information will not be shared with anyone outside the center except when someone's life is in danger or if child abuse is involved. The psychiatrists at the Student Health Service follow these same guidelines. Under these restrictions, it is extremely rare that confidentiality is compromised. Another misperception may be that counselors at the Counseling Center are not sensitive to the needs of culturally diverse clients. While there are gaps in the diversity of our staff--for example, we currently do not have an Asian or Latino staff member--our staff is one of the most diverse on campus. Staff members receive special training every year in providing culturally sensitive services to students. We hope faculty who read this article will help us correct any misperception students may have in these areas.

One must remember that resources are finite, and when the Counseling Center or Student Health Service gets some part of the pie, someone else does not. So it is important to decide how our community should deal with our mental health challenges in a reasonable, economical way. One idea that has been discussed is a Student Services Center. Such a center, centrally located, would be a place where students could get a range of health and wellness services, and where faculty and staff could access resources to help them deal more effectively with students in trouble. Minimally, the facility should include the Counseling Center, the Student Health Service and the Umbrella Group, a consortium of student paraprofessional counselors and educators. The integration of these three service units would eliminate duplication of services and allow for better coordination of interventions in areas such as suicide prevention, alcohol and drug abuse, and eating disorders. Building such a center would involve an initial commitment of space and money, but substantial savings would accrue over time from more efficient use of current professional staff.

Finally, we hope faculty will take Dr. Brustad's comments to heart by actively participating in finding solutions. Emory University, with its medical and psychological resources, has the opportunity to be a national leader in this area--an innovator rather than a follower. But it will take strong participation among all aspects of our community--faculty, administration, staff, and students. Dr. Brustad's role in her students' lives is what we as a community are all about. Most of our faculty friends and colleagues find their mentoring relationships with students the most meaningful aspect of their professional lives. You may not know this, but the faculty is on the front line in our efforts to help troubled students. You will see and know them before we do. You can be critical in their getting the help they may need.

We encourage you to read the faculty resources section of the Counseling Center web page (www.emory.edu/scounsel/) as well as information about the Student Health Service on their web page (www.emory.edu/uhs/). Both are found under Campus Life on the Emory home page. And please ask your academic department to invite us to your department meetings so that we can get to know each other better and learn more about the resources we both can provide.