In an attempt to meet students' growing need for mental health resources, Counseling and Psychological Services has shifted to offer same-day appointments, as all sessions take place through Zoom to comply with COVID-19 restrictions.
"Just like every other department, we had to develop what CAPS was going to do during the different distancing phases," CAPS Director Peter LeViness said. "For a lot of reasons, ours is set up to continue to be virtual until we get to the green stage, mainly because [counseling] is a very high-risk activity. In all of our offices, you’re within six feet of each other and you’re talking to each other, exchanging the same air for around an hour."
The Green Phase is the final of the four phases in the University of Richmond's Physical Distancing Framework. UR is in the first, or red, phase, according to its COVID-19 Dashboard.
Junior Cortney Klein said she had started going to CAPS last year and has found the online sessions more convenient than face-to-face therapy.
"I like it on Zoom because it’s super easy to schedule," Klein said. "I feel like a lot of people get scared about meeting in person, or sometimes it’s just more comfortable to have an intimate conversation while you’re in your own space.
"Also, I think for a lot of people, mental health gets pushed under the rug when you're busy, so being able to just log on to Zoom and not having to worry about getting to the appointment is great."
CAPS made the change to same-day appointments this fall after Brown University had success with a similar method, receiving good student feedback. The change was not because of COVID-19 and will still be offered after the pandemic, LeViness said.
"It just gives students more options," LeViness said. "Everyone who’s coming in for the first time this year comes in same day just via emailing the front desk on the day they want to come in. There’s pretty much no wait in that regard, which has been really good and something we wanted to address."
Since the beginning of the fall semester, each CAPS psychologist has around five same-day appointments per week, and the rest of the sessions are follow-up appointments, LeViness said.
CAPS has previously had problems with having multiple-day- or even weeks-long waiting times before students can be fit into a psychologist's schedule.
"In previous years, we did get handfuls of students saying, 'I’m going to come in the first week of class, even if I don’t need it yet, just because I want to make sure I get a spot,'" LeViness said. "That was another reason we wanted to shift our model, because that doesn’t make a lot of sense, and if someone feels like they have to do that to get access, then we need to look at what we’re doing."
Junior Elizabeth Halasz has been to CAPS in the past but never went consistently because of the difficulty of making an appointment, she said.
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"If you were having a bad week or something and wanted to talk to someone, they would be like, 'Yeah, we can fit you in in a month,'" Halasz said. "Which doesn’t necessarily help, so I think the same-day appointments are a great addition.
"For people who aren't even necessarily looking for something long-term, but just want to find out what CAPS is, it makes it seem a lot more accessible."
Another resource students can use is the Therapy Assistance Online program, known as TAO Connect. The program has 160 modules that specialize in specific areas of mental health, including depression, anxiety, procrastination and anger management, said Sherry Benton, founder of TAO.
Benton created TAO Connect in 2013 while serving as the counseling center director at the University of Florida to help meet the school's demand for mental health services, she said.
"We had way more students who were seeking help than we could possibly accommodate, which often led us to have an extensive waitlist," Benton said. "For me, that was intolerable. If you make a student wait four weeks to get help and they're depressed, they could lose their whole semester. The first things that go when someone's depressed are memory and concentration."
Benton said that, because of budget restrictions, hiring enough counselors to meet demand was not an option, so she had to come up with a convenient, cost-effective way to expand capacity.
"The first version [of TAO Connect] combined online educational materials with really short 15-minute video conferences with a therapist," she said. "When we did the research, we found that the students who did that got more progress and improvement than the students who just had traditional face-to-face therapy. At that point, I had several friends who were also counseling center directors who wanted to get TAO for their own campus, so we launched the company."
LeViness heard about TAO Connect at a conference and began working with UR Information Services to bring the software to UR during summer 2015, he said.
"No [psychologist] uses it for every student," LeViness said. "They go, ‘I think this specific module for this specific student could be a useful adjunct to what we’re doing,’ and it also has to depend on the student being interested in it.
"It gives structured interventions that a counselor would do anyway, but it allows the student to work on it in between sessions and gives them some really good tools."
There has been a rise in recent years of college students using mental health resources, which is a result of increased levels of depression, as well as a destigmatization around therapy. CAPS averages 27 additional clients each year, LeViness said.
"The good news is more people with a mental disorder are seeking help," LeViness said. "The challenge is most places aren’t resourced to adequately provide for the amount of people who need it. That’s a national dilemma, so we’re just trying to stay ahead of the curve and see as many people as possible."
Contact news writer Meredith Moran at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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