Counseling center appeals for more staff

by Allison Hagan / Beacon Staff • March 24, 2016

Emerson Counseling and Psychological Services requested funding to hire more counselors, according to Elise Harrison, director of ECAPS. The board of trustees did not approve the appeal.

Harrison said she first made this request to the board of trustees committee for student life in February 2015. This year, they asked for an update on the need and they reaffirmed that it was still there.

Harrison said that in the last four years, there has been a 37 percent increase in use of on-campus counseling services. The increase in students seeking these services means ECAPS can’t see patients as often, she said.

“It’s happening all over the country,” Harrison said. “Everyone is seeing an increase in the number of students who want to come in [for counseling]. There is less stigma, and people are much more open. People want to get help.”

If ECAPS gains more staff, Harrison said, then they will be able to see students more often. It would also take less time for them to schedule.

“Emerson students are so busy sometimes, it can take a while to find the right time for someone,” she said.

Charlie White, a junior political communication major and resident assistant, said he doesn't find the college’s mental health support system to be adequate, specifically when it comes to substance abuse. White said Emerson needs to prioritize making an investment in the well-being of current students.

“ECAPS provides a good starting point for residents and students, but it’s only an initial program and doesn’t necessarily focus on long-term mental health aid,” White said.

ECAPS is not the only office on campus that has requested more staff. Diane Paxton, director of disability services, said that her request for an additional position in the office was approved. It was made in early 2014, she said, because the amount of student demand overwhelmed the staff of only two people.

Paxton said that Harrison’s presentation to the board about mental health in February 2015 was what moved them to authorize the request a year after it was made. The assistant director started in the office last July and has helped make the dramatic increase in need less overwhelming, she said. Another request for a fourth staff member was also made in February 2015, Paxton said, which has not yet been approved.

“We’ve seen a really dramatic increase in students with mental health concerns,” Paxton said. “Professors even mention it to us. College-wide, people are noticing it. That’s why more staff is needed to support the students.”

Despite inaction from the board, Harrison said, Emerson’s current situation is still better than many other institutions. The International Association of College Counseling Centers set the guideline of one counselor to 1500 students per capita. Emerson, according to Harrison, has a ratio of about one to 800.

“We do have a very good service here already and we are well beyond what’s recommended,” Harrison said. “But that doesn’t mean I’m not going keep asking.”