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SHAC shifts toward same-day appointments

This term, Student Health and Counseling (SHAC) at Carleton introduced several changes in its system for scheduling counseling appointments. Appointments are now scheduled for the current week only, rather than into upcoming weeks. Same-day appointments are also available. In response to student requests, online scheduling is now available for a portion of appointments. In addition, SHAC expects to move toward, on average, shorter appointment lengths.

“Each year the demand for counseling grows and SHAC strives to explore ways to meet the needs of the student body so that we can provide counseling support to as many people as possible,” explains Marit Lysne, Psy.D. LP, the director of SHAC. “Most college counseling centers in North America are grappling with the same issue and are experimenting with new models of scheduling and treatment approaches. SHAC is no different.”

In past terms, SHAC has been overwhelmed in the first few weeks with people scheduling appointments ahead of time, leading to all time slots being booked one to four weeks in advance. “In that system, the students who scheduled early got access to counseling that other students, who tried to schedule later in the term, couldn’t access as readily. That didn’t feel equitable to us,” said Lysne.

One Carleton student added anonymously, “I don’t usually schedule appointments ahead of time in regards to counseling or mental health help because I can’t predict when I’ll be in crisis. I go to SHAC when I need immediate help, but the counseling slots are usually full for about a week in advance.” She said, “I think most Carleton students go to SHAC’s mental health resources when they need it urgently [or] are in crisis, and SHAC often isn’t able to serve that need because of the limited resources.”

Under SHAC’s new system, appointments are reserved across counselors’ schedules for appointments scheduled that same day. Students can get same-day appointments by contacting SHAC each weekday to ask what appointments are available for that day. Appointment scheduling for the upcoming week opens on Friday afternoons.

SHAC’s counseling services will remain the same, except that individual counseling is available in both 25- and 50-minute sessions, and “as the term progresses,” said Lysne, “we will likely have more 25-minute appointments available throughout the week, in order to increase the number of appointments for students to access counseling support.”

All of the changes reflect an increasing demand for counseling by students in face of SHAC’s finite capacity to accommodate such demand. A 2017 study done by the Office of Health Promotion (OHP) found that 25 percent of students at Carleton screened positive for depression and 22 percent screened positive for an anxiety disorder.

Janet Lewis Muth, MHP, the Director of Health Promotion at Carleton, said, “SHAC is working very hard to meet the needs of as many students as possible within certain parameters. While having an unlimited number of counselors available might seem like a good idea, we know that it isn’t feasible here at Carleton, or in the community, or on any campus.”

In the past, students seeking consistent long-term sessions with a mental health professional were often referred by SHAC to counseling services in the local community.

“SHAC has been working under a short-term model for a long time,” said Lysne. That aspect of the services provided by SHAC has not differed with these new changes.

“Changing can be uncomfortable for everyone involved and we recognize the need to give this enough time to see if these changes lead to positive results,” said Lysn. “I welcome feedback as we explore new approaches.”

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