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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

SHAC hires new staff to meet demand

<ir="ltr">Due to increased student demand for individual counseling sessions, Student Health and Counseling (SHAC) will hire a new full time-counselor by August and an additional psychiatric nurse practitioner to meet student needs. SHAC’s expanded services are part of a College initiative to improve mental health on campus through the eventual creation of a new position, the director of health promotion.

During winter term, the two temporary SHAC counselors were on leave or absent, leaving only three permanent counselors to provide services to campus. This decreased counseling staff led students to face waitlists to receive face-to-face counseling appointments, which was frustrating to both students and SHAC.

“For the first half of winter term, we did not have either of those two counselors,” said director of SHAC Marit Lysne. “We really felt that absence of those people, and a backlog occurred. Ideally, we would like to provide first appointment to people within a day, and certainly within a week’s timeframe. When we can’t do that, we move into what we call triage, which is when we start offering 30 minute slots to people and ask them to fill out a form, so that they can initially get in, meet with us and determine how urgently they need to see us,’ she said.

A student who wished to remain anonymous expressed frustration over winter term’s long wait times for counseling, saying that when a friend came to her emotionally distressed, “we called SHAC for a counselor because I thought she should be talking to someone that could be of professional help. They said that they had a waitlist, and before she could be seen, she heard she had to fill out a survey, which caused her to never fill it out” or seek an appointment.

The student added that “mental health is already not a priority by students and professors at Carleton, so if you really hit a point where you accept that you need help, help should be available.”

Sarah King, a temporary counselor with SHAC for four years who was on family leave during winter term, said: “Desire for counseling services does seem to ebb and flow. For example, winter term can sometimes be a time of increased demand, perhaps due to the colder and cloudier weather.”

“SHAC and the Carleton administration strive to respond to needs that the students demonstrate,” said King. “To this end, Dean Livingston has secured approval for a new permanent counselor position, the search for which is currently underway.”

Lysne said that the additional psychiatric nurse practitioner will begin next Fall term, and the new full time counselor will begin in August.“We’re hoping an additional counselor here will allow for much more flexibility with scheduling,” and to more easily meet student counseling needs, she said.

“I’ve been here for 15 years, and the numbers of appointments and number of students we treat has risen every single year, and I predict that need will continue to rise. It speaks to a reduction of mental health stigma, and students being open to seeking help. This is not a Carleton-specific issue, so every counseling center is trying to figure how how to we meet this need for individual counseling but also in other forms as well,” Lysne said.  

SHAC has implemented and experimented with other services to help students, including group therapy, workshop based services and online psychoeducational programs about depression and anxiety. According to Lysne, the online program “hasn’t had as much success as I had hoped for,” and that while “once a group therapy gets going, I think students find it a very effective form of treatment, but students can be hesitant” to join due to the small size of Carleton’s campus.

The 24/7 phone counseling hotline, which was implemented in spring 2014, “did not reduce the need” for in-person individual counseling, according to Lysne. While it “has been really beneficial to students because of the extended care” available any hour, over breaks and on off campus study programs, “it’s more meant to be an immediate support for crisis or urgent matters. It did enhance the services that we can provide, but it’s not a replacement for counseling,” she said.

With the two temporary counselors back for spring term, “there is a lot of availability of counseling right now,” but SHAC expects demand for counseling services to continue to rise. In addition to the new full time counselor, SHAC is hiring an additional consulting psychiatric nurse practitioner who specializes in medication management. Currently, SHAC provides a part-time consultant, but “that’s not enough to meet the needs of students,” said Lysne.

Lysne added that “we’re always trying to collaborate around creativity” to provide more services to the Carleton community, and that upon the hiring of the director of health promotion, she “would imagine that SHAC will work very closely with that individual, and that there will be much more prevention around a whole host of health issues, but especially will include work to better mental health on campus.”

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