Counseling Services Continues Improvements to Meet Student Demand

Photo by Lena Wilson '16 | Counseling Services, located at the Schacht Center, has tried to improve availability of their staff.  

Katherine Hazen '18 News Editor

Last year, The Sophian reported on students’ grievances with Counseling Services and the office’s inability to match rising student demand, as an estimated 20 percent of Smith students seek counseling.    

Counseling Services faced a severe staffing shortage due to an increased demand, which is a result of national trends of increased use of campus mental health services and the new, more central location of the Schacht Center for Health and Wellness.

The counseling staff last year consisted of one full-time psychiatrist, four part-time staff members and two graduate interns from the School of Social Work.   

“We now have five full-time staff therapists, whereas before [Director of Counseling Services Pamela McCarthy] was our full-time therapist, and then the other therapists began increasing their hours to meet the demand of students.  Now we have two [part-time] psychiatrists,” said Shauna Pevato, administrative coordinator of Counseling Services.

Together, the two part-time psychiatrists work one and a half times the hours of the one full-time psychiatrist from last year.

There are now three graduate interns; their duties, however, are somewhat restricted as they require supervision by staff.

“With the increase in staff, we’ve been able to increase the number of support groups that we have,” said Pevato, adding that Counseling Services currently offers support groups for ADHD, grief, sexual assault and others.

Nathalie Vaughn, a clinical social worker in counseling, observed that with additional staff, “We’re just as busy, even more.” This is corroborated by the fact that Counseling Services saw 31 more students in September alone than it did last year.

Before the Student Government Association met with the Board of Trustees about two weeks ago, Senator Emma Stewart ’19 called Counseling Services to see how long it would be until the next appointment. She found that the waiting time for an appointment was at least a week and a half.

The waiting time is a significant improvement from the former two- to three-week waiting period. However, as Stewart pointed out, “In order to see a psychiatrist, you have to be referred by a counselor, so [the waiting period] adds time on.”    

SGA has kept improvements to counseling services high on their list of priorities this year.

Another demand students expressed to SGA and the currently inactive organization Active Minds last year was to see a more diverse counseling staff, reflective of marginalized multicultural experiences.

“In terms of the staff, myself and one other staff member identify as women of color; the other two women identify as white,” said Vaughn.

Of the graduate interns, one identifies as multi-racial, and the other two are white.

On the issue of diversity, Chair of the Social Justice and Equity Committee Zara Jamshed ’17 said, “More has been done but clearly not enough.”

Jamshed said one suggestion put forth by the SGA is to prioritize applicants of color in hiring more staff.    

“We want people to feel safe going to counseling services, whether that means making sure they can get an appointment as soon as possible, or they can speak with a person of color, or that the counselors have sexual assault training,” said Stewart.

When SGA met with the Board of Trustees, they offered a solution to accommodate more students by extending counseling service hours.

“Since there are eight counselors and appointments are 45 minutes, that could be eight more appointments a day,” Stewart said.    

According to Stewart, Dean of Students Julianne Ohotnicky “liked the idea of playing with hours,” but it has not yet been discussed with anyone in Counseling Services.

“Another thing we talked about, besides extending service hours, was multicultural and sexual assault training,” Jamshed said.

Another goal for SGA is to facilitate better communication between the Office of Disability Services and Counseling Services.

“Right now it seems those offices are very separate, but [it would be useful] especially for finding psychiatrists,” said Jamshed.

While there has been progress made in the past year, there is still much to be done in prioritizing the mental health and wellbeing of Smith students.