Counseling center aims to improve services

by Katherine Burns / Beacon Staff • September 10, 2015

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Ashley Cunningham, president of Active Minds
Ashley Cunningham, president of Active Minds

Emerson Counseling and Psychological Services, or ECAPS, has implemented a 24-hour counseling hotline available to all students, as well as a new protocol for dealing with life-threatening mental illness.

The language in the 2014-2015 Undergraduate Student Handbook regarding life-threatening behaviors was brought to the attention of ECAPS at a talkback hosted by Active Minds, according to Ashley Cunningham, president of the organization. Active Minds, which SGA recognized last spring, is Emerson’s branch of a nationwide mental health advocacy organization.

The talkbacks were designed for students to speak directly with Elise Harrison, director of ECAPS since 2012. It was during one of these meetings that Jack Schwartz, a sophomore visual and media arts major and Beacon contributor, spoke about his experience facing disciplinary action for exhibiting life-threatening behavior.

“The problem is that the policy didn’t lay out a protocol for what should happen when these destructive behaviors are identified,” Cunningham, a senior marketing communication major, said. “What ended up happening was the self-destructive behaviors were met with punishment and discipline instead of being treated like psychological issues that needed to be confronted.”

Schwartz continued to speak to members of administration, including Erik Muurisepp—the associate dean and director of the Office of Housing and Residence Life—about his concerns with the handbook. Muurisepp came to an Active Minds meeting last spring and worked with the organization to ultimately make the changes to the handbook.

The handbook’s sections were reworded to reflect the new protocol, which will deal with mental illness on a case-by-case basis, although the first step will be helping the student seek treatment. Prior to these edits, the handbook referred to life-threatening behavior as “disruptive to and unacceptable in the academic and social/living environments of the College community” and only spoke of the penalties students would receive if they exhibited these behaviors.

The handbook states that students may be required to seek help either through ECAPS or off-campus resources, and that if they refuse, they could be subject to suspension.

In addition to changing the student handbook, ECAPS has implemented a 24-hour hotline through the company ProtoCall, a national service that connects callers with counselors, for students who need to speak with someone before or after the center’s business hours.

According to Harrison, if a student calls the counseling center’s number between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., they will be able to get in contact with someone at ECAPS, but if they call after hours, they will immediately be connected to an outside counselor. The counselors all have information about Emerson, and know who to contact if a student might be at risk.

Harrison said she wanted a resource that was more accessible to students than the Emerson College Police Department and residence directors, which were the only resources available to on-campus students after hours.

Harrison also said that students who are on satellite campuses, like Kasteel Well and Emerson LA, will also have access to this hotline.

“I think what we really want to convey is that we want people to get help,” Harrison said. “There are times that people may feel so helpless that they don’t use the help that’s being offered, so the university wanted some mechanism to make sure that they’re safe.”