During the 2017-2018 academic year, the Counseling Center has seen a steady increase in the number of students utilizing its services — the center reports having seen 34 percent of the student body so far, and anticipates this figure to rise to about 36 percent by the end of the semester.
Over the past four years, the number of students who have used the counseling center doubled, increasing from 15 percent in the 2012-2013 academic year, according to Director of the Counseling Center Jackie Alvarez.
Compared to other small colleges, Amherst observes a higher number of students seeking counseling, but has similar trends to other highly selective colleges.
Alvarez sees this trend as positive, a sign that the Counseling Center’s services have become more accessible over the years. “We worked to overhaul our service and how we deliver our service in order to increase accessibility, and I think we’ve been successful because in four years we’ve bumped up more than 100 percent,” she said.
According to Alvarez, the center has implemented a number of additional services, including everyday urgent care, which allows students to book same-day appointments with the Counseling Center. “Students are more likely to follow up this way than if our first opening was in two weeks,” she said.
Additionally, the Counseling Center worked to decrease the wait time for non-urgent care appointments. Currently, the average wait time for an appointment is approximately four days.
Psychiatry appointments have a slightly longer wait time, with the average being eight days. These figures are small in comparison to colleges nationally, in which some students might wait up to two weeks for an appointment.
In order to meet demand, the counseling center has broadened the number of services offered to students. Social workers, psychologists and case managers are just a few of the staff members the center has added over the past four years to meet students’ needs.
“I think that really means that when students come, they can get plugged into the right type of service that they need,” Alvarez said. “We know that not every student comes in needing the same thing.”
Along with broadening the types of services offered, the Counseling Center also aimed to broaden the diversity of the staff to tailor to different student experiences.
Alvarez believes that the variety of therapeutic perspectives and approaches to therapy offers students a wide range of services to choose from.
“Sometimes for a student, [one service] is not a good fit for them initially, and they might need to make a transfer to somebody that has a theoretical orientation that better meets their needs,” she said.
Despite these accomplishments, the Counseling Center recognizes that there are areas that need to be improved. One thing the Counseling Center is currently working on is decreasing the stigma associated with using mental health services.
The center has partnered with Active Minds, a student organization that focuses on destigmatizing mental health issues, to raise awareness on campus.
In addition to this partnership, one of the Counseling Center’s main goals for improvement is increasing accessibility by going out into the campus community.
Alvarez said she recognizes the relationships that are built through athletics programs, the resource centers and other communities on campus, and is looking for ways to partner with these communities to reach students where they are.
The Counseling Center currently sends liaisons to each of these groups to equip members to effectively respond to students’ mental health needs.
Counseling Center liaisons and members of these groups meet on a weekly basis to discuss ways to reach students, talk to them and make referrals to the counseling center.
“That’s been really important, to make sure that we are identifying students who may need additional supports and that the supports that are naturally there feel like they have the skills,” said Alvarez.
The Counseling Center also seeks to pay more attention to students to find ways to improve. To do so, the center sends out satisfaction surveys to students who use the campus’ mental health services.
Alvarez found the surveys effective. The pantry, a donation service that provides personal items to students who are unable to afford them, sprouted from student survey responses.
“We saw that students had needs, and they asked if there was any way [to make it happen]… we saw that we could bring that here,” Alvarez said.
As the Counseling Center continues to work on its services, Alvarez highlighted the importance of listening to students’ voices when looking at how to improve their services.
“We sometimes miss the mark, so I would absolutely love to get feedback from those who are not happy with our service because that’s how we get better,” Alvarez said.