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Operation ProtoCall: 24/7 Psych Service Debuts at SHAC

<n effort to better serve students, the SHAC will begin its contract with ProtoCall, a 24/7 telephone counseling service, this term.

“By using ProtoCall, we can enhance and broaden how students use counseling services, increase times when service is available, and allow our counselors to focus on their daily work at SHAC,” said Marit Lysne, clinical psychologist and director of SHAC.

ProtoCall is an organization of mental health counselors based in Portland, Oregon, which provide services to colleges across the country. Currently, it services 70 campuses and 1.5 million students.

ProtoCall differs from a counseling hotline in that it contracts directly with colleges.

In practice, this means that Carleton tells ProtoCall how to deal with certain situations. For instance, if the ProtoCall counselors are unsure of how to proceed with a student, they are instructed to call Lysne. In addition, a written record of every call to ProtoCall goes into students’ electronic health record at SHAC, allowing SHAC counselors to follow up with students, when appropriate.

“With a hotline, we would never know whether a student had reached out for support and would never be able to follow up for additional care or to make sure the student is in a good place,” Lysne said. “Many campuses just direct students after hours to hotlines, but we did not want to do that. We want to take care of students at all hours.”

Similarly, clinical psychologist Drew Weis said, “An advantage of ProtoCall over another system we considered, is that it keeps us informed, so we can be aware of the help sought and reach out to those students who have contacted the system. And ProtoCall is set up so in cases in which a student or students must connect with a SHAC counselor, that can still happen.”

Lysne stressed that ProtoCall will not negate hotline usage. If students want to use hotlines, they still can.
SHAC decided to switch its after hours counseling services to ProtoCall in order to improve its services. Currently, there are three types of after-hours staff on-call:  the on-call area director, on-call central staff, and SHAC counselors for psychological emergencies. 

SHAC counselors are available overnight and weekends for crisis counseling, and these counselors are the same ones who work full-time during the day at SHAC.
Currently, in order to reach a SHAC counselor, students call Security, which contacts the counselor. Then, the counselor calls the student back, talks to them, and helps them make a plan, such as scheduling a meeting at SHAC for the following day.

“What can be problematic—but we really like having people call—is that there are only three counselors. If we are taking calls at night and work during the day, it is difficult, so we had to keep limiting the on-call service to urgent situations only to protect against counselor burnout,” Lysne said.

As one of these three counselors, Weis said, “Because I will no longer be woken up in the middle of the night to handle crisis calls, I can be more present and effective in my work with students during the day.”

With the change to ProtoCall, SHAC will now be able to encourage students to use after hours counseling instead of telling students to use it in emergencies only, according to Lysne. Further, unlike SHAC, ProtoCall is available even when school is not in session, providing service during school breaks and the summer months.

“ProtoCall amplifies the counseling services that we already provide,” she said. “We knew that we didn’t want to limit the service because it is utilized, so we wanted to enhance it.”

After using ProtoCall for three years, Grinnell College’s Student Health and Wellness Services has been pleased with the counseling service, according to Harriett Dickey-Chasins, Grinnell’s psychologist and training coordinator.

Because Grinnell is a small school with a small counseling staff, it does not have enough resources to provide after-hours counseling. As a result, before contracting with ProtoCall, Grinnell sent students to community mental health services.

“ProtoCall gives students a great resource that we could not have any other way,” she said. “Now, we are able to have campus-centric mental health services.”

The greatest benefit of ProtoCall is that it is in constant conversation with Grinnell, providing information on the phone calls to counselors and ensuring that it handles calls in a way that complies with college procedures.

However, Dickey Chasins conceded that “a lot of times people would prefer a face-to-face meeting, but we can’t always provide that, so ProtoCall is our solution.”

The only glitch Dickey Chasins mentioned about ProtoCall was that sometimes students cannot connect to the service. To contact ProtoCall, students call Student Health and Wellness Services and are connected to ProtoCall. However, there are occasions when the transfer does work, so students do not end up speaking with a counselor. If students try to connect a few times, the call eventually goes through.

“We are afraid that students who are distressed won’t try to call again, so we are working to get this fixed,” she said.

In the end, even though Carleton’s after hours counseling service provider will change, Lysne emphasized that “our hope is that it doesn’t feel any different for other students and that it improves SHAC.”

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