Monday, October 31, 2022

University Counseling Service (UCS) is focused on capacity-building, efficiency, and sustainability. I am excited to be here at a time where mental health and well-being are supported at the highest level of leadership. President Wilson has named mental health and well-being as a strategic priority, and both presidents of the Undergraduate Student Government and the Graduate and Professional Student Government have listed mental health and well-being in their strategic plans. This allows the campus to have meaningful and respectful conversations around mental health where people can add to the conversations, and others can hear the conversations. This is a giant step towards removing the stigma of mental health and allowing people to engage in services without feeling shameful.

UCS is working to engage marginalized and minoritized individuals and communities who have not accessed services for a variety of reasons - whether due to stigma, lack of trust, myths, negative messaging, etc. We are committed to being intentional with outreach to populations that haven’t traditionally used our services (postdocs, graduate and professional students, Rape Victim Advocacy Program, Women’s Resource and Action Center, UI REACH -Realizing Educational and Career Hopes, Student Disability Services, and Multicultural and International Student Support and Engagement) to ensure that they are accessing needed services. UCS is building trusting relationships with these communities so that it becomes easier when a member of these communities needs to access services.

UCS is here to meet the rising need for mental health services. Mental health needs are increasing at an alarming rate and widening the space between needs and our department’s ability to meet those needs. We must begin to narrow the gap by developing more preventative programs, creating an environment of wellness, and reducing the need for mental health services. This means that we must have greater partnership with programs such as Student Care and Assistance, the Food Pantry at Iowa, etc. For example, academic advisors may be frontline helpers to counsel students who are stressed over exams and low grades. While counseling is an effective means of receiving help, to achieve holistic mental health and well-being, we need more sustainable interventions and programs such as inclusive teaching practices, training in Mental Health First Aid, and engaging in more activities to address basic needs and reducing environmental and psychological stressors. Not every problem or subjective distress requires a licensed therapist to intervene. Counselors and staff from other wellness programs across campus can respond to some of the needs of students and leave the more severe persistent mental health to a licensed professional/UCS.

My other priority is staff well-being. One student said it best when they asked me to promise that I will take care of the staff. They said, “when your staff isn’t well, we know, and we don’t want to be in the room with them because they can’t help us at that time if they are not well”. I am committed to monitoring staff workload, creating opportunities for greater work-life balance, and providing effective natural opportunities for staff to rest and recharge.

Although we continue to support the request and response model for outreach, and offer induvial, relationship, and group counseling, we celebrate our more long-term services to students – group therapy and clinical case management. One student affirmed that they engaged in case management and was connected to a community therapist during their freshman year. According to the student, they still see that community therapist and it was the best thing that happened to them. The reality is that individual therapy is not necessarily the answer or solution to every problem or for everyone. We must begin to reorientate ourselves to other treatment options. Group therapy works, and it fosters inclusivity and belonging because it implies that you are not alone and that there is universality in our common humanity.

Finally, our American Psychological Association (APA) accredited training program builds capacity through our psychology interns and practicum trainees and is a sustainable way of addressing mental health needs. The program allows us to always add professional capacity to the field and supplying the marketplace with qualified resources. It is a long-term strategy. We also have a professional and social responsibility to replenish our field with quality trained individuals.