ECAPS expands hours of staff members to combat rise of students on campus


Tivara Tanudjaja

Director of ECAPS Elise Harrison posing for a portrait on December 6, 2019.

By Ann E. Matica, Deputy News Editor

Emerson Counseling and Psychological Services gained a new staff member this August and increased the hours of two part-time employees to accommodate an increased on-campus student population. 

In 2012, ECAPS had only five therapists who met with students. That number has now doubled with the center employing 10 full-time and part-time licensed therapists who are available to the entire student body.   

ECAPS hired Social Worker and Substance Specialist Natalie Waggaman in August 2019 to a position that had been vacant for almost a year. Psychiatrist Stacy Taylor’s hours were increased from six in 2018 to 20 in 2019 and Case Manager Macrina Yah-Buendia took on four days at the center this year instead of her previous three.  

In September, more than 900 new students started living in the newly renovated Little Building, causing a 6.9-percent increase of students visiting ECAPS in 2019, the Director of ECAPS Elise Harrison said in an interview. Student visits to ECAPS increased by 45 percent between 2012 and the current 2019 calendar year, rising from 574 to 832 student ECAPS visits, according to ECAPS records at the time of publication. 

Harrison said the increase of students visiting ECAPS stems from the rise of mental illness cases in college students and the decreasing stigma surrounding mental health issues. In 2019, 53 percent of students who visited ECAPS already attended therapy outside of the college, Harrison said. 

“There are more people who have been in therapy already before they even get to school,” Harrison said in an interview with The Beacon. “So [students] are much more open to continuing therapy.” 

ECAPS hired Macrina Yah-Buendia as a case manager in 2018 to look over individual students’ counseling needs and refer therapists outside of the college to students who want more frequent sessions.  

“Because we are seeing so many students, we do short-term therapy in ECAPS,” Harrison said. “So if a student comes in and they know that they’ve had a really good experience having weekly therapy and they want to continue that, it’s a really good choice for them to start looking for a therapist in the [Boston] community.”

According to the American Psychiatric Association, mental health diagnoses in college students increased nationwide by 14 percent between 2007 and 2017.  The study, released in Nov. 2018, reported that treatment increased by 15 percent during the same time period. 

In 2018, 20 percent of undergraduates at the college received counseling services from ECAPS, Harrison said. She said 544 students have already sought psychological services from the center this semester.

The ECAPS office on the second floor of the Union Bank Building underwent renovations in 2017 that added two more office spaces for therapy sessions. ECAPS does not charge students for services and relies on funds from the college to accommodate the rise of students seeking therapy. 

Each year, ECAPS submits a request to Student Affairs for an increase in their budget by Oct. 1. The request then goes on to the Presidents Council and then to the Board of Trustees for review.  

“Some years it’s granted and then some years it’s not, or part of it is or part of it isn’t, depending on what other needs Emerson has,” Harrison said. 

ECAPS offers a range of services for students, including therapy sessions, group therapy, therapist referrals and an after-hours crisis line.  There is no limit to how many therapy sessions a student can attend at ECAPS. 

“This is absolutely our busiest time of year right now, so it takes a little bit longer to get an appointment, but usually at the beginning of the year we can get someone in between one and three days after they call for their first appointment,” Harrison said. 

In 2019, ECAPS hired Post doctoral Fellow Max Wu who works as a full time therapist for a one year appointment. Starting in 2018, one post-doctorate student who has already received their Ph.D. but is still finishing their doctorate work experience hours is chosen by the ECAPS staff as part of the post doctoral fellow program. ECAPS also selects two graduate student interns with previous experience who conduct supervised therapy sessions for students.

ECAPS submits reports to the International Accreditation of Counseling Services, an accredited psychiatric organization, every year to confirm to students and their families that the college is meeting the appropriate psychological counseling standards. Every eight years IACS visits the ECAPS offices to ensure the department is complying with their requirements.

IACS recommends a one-to-1,500 therapist-to-student ratio. Harrison said ECAPS employs one therapist to every 530 students.