After her first semester at Kenyon last year, Grace Fuisz ’19 attempted to book an appointment at the Counseling Center. However, there were no slots available for the counselors she wanted to see, and she was unable to use the services.
“That was really frustrating to me,” she said. “I didn’t really know about the Counseling Center until about halfway through the year, when I really needed it. It was a bummer that I didn’t have a chance to try it.”
This year, Fuisz was able to snag an appointment during her first week on campus, largely due to a new scheduling policy enacted at the beginning of this year. The policy, which operates on a first-come, first-serve basis — rather than consistently-scheduled appointments — is part of the College’s attempt to meet an increased demand for mental health services.
“Counseling centers are finding themselves working with models that are unsustainable,” Counselor Lindsay Miller said. “We recognize that we were hitting capacity, and that we had to come up with more effective ways to meet needs.”
In previous years, students wishing to see a counselor booked recurring appointments. Because students committed to attending these sessions for the semester’s duration, counselors’ schedules filled up quickly; students who wanted to book appointments later in the semester had fewer — or no — slots available to them.
This year, students wishing to see a counselor can take the next available slot with the counselor they want, and schedule their next appointment at the end of their session. They may receive the same slot or a different slot, depending on availability. Any slots not filled are open to any student.
“The purpose of [this change] is so that we can better meet the needs of the students here as far as the numbers, as well as really encourage students to develop resiliency and to not begin to foster dependence,” Interim Co-Director of Counseling Services Mike Durham said. “Our goals are to help students develop skills … and be better prepared for life after Kenyon.”
Students without appointments can still get help: Those who need to see a counselor right away can use the Center’s intake hours, a session each day set aside for those in a crisis or who need immediate assistance.
“There is always going to be a spot available for someone who needs to get in,” Miller said.
While the Counseling Center hopes its new model will open up access to services, some students have voiced concerns about the adjusted process.
“I think it’s sort of designed to make students get out of the Counseling Center as soon as possible,” said one female junior who uses the Counseling Center, but wished to remain anonymous.
Ally Dellheim ’17 is concerned that without the security of a regular appointment, students will feel less comfortable opening up to their counselors. “For students who are really looking for a consistent, reliable person whom they can talk to and know they will see on a weekly basis at the same time, the fact that that’s not a guaranteed spot can take away from the feeling of security in a relationship that a student has with a member of the Counseling Center,” she said.
Dellheim, who visited the Counseling Center as an underclassman, suggested that certain counselors see students on a regular basis and that others remain available for one-time appointments or for students who only approach the Counseling Center later in the semester.
Not all students are troubled by the changes, however. Fuisz is pleased with the system. “I haven’t really had trouble finding times that work for me,” she said.
Making the Switch
Discussions regarding the changes began last spring, when consultants from The College of Wooster, Davidson College and Oberlin College conducted a review of Kenyon’s health and counseling services. The consultants, who are independently contracted by the College, make recommendations for Kenyon every few years.
This year, the consultants recommended limiting sessions to accommodate more students. Durham said Kenyon was determined not to compromise the quality of its services.
“Many schools have gone to a very finite number of sessions, or they’ve capped it at a very low number and then charged cash on top of that for further sessions,” Durham said. “And that just doesn’t feel good. It just doesn’t feel Kenyon.”
Durham explained that the Counseling Center is determined to not maintain a waitlist, a practice other peer institutions may use. “Nobody is left out,” he said.
Like other institutions, however, Kenyon can refer students to outside resources, should students need additional support in areas such as alcohol counseling or domestic violence.
Supply and Demand
The Counseling Center’s updated approach comes at a time of increased demand for counseling services at Kenyon. Last year, the Counseling Center saw 723 students, approximately 45 percent of the student body. Compared to last year, the Counseling Center saw a 17 percent increase in the number of students coming in during the first four weeks of school.
Durham and Interim Co-Director of Counseling Services Nikki Keller attribute the increase in counseling services to better advertising, reduced stigma and the support of student groups like the Peer Counselors, Sexual Misconduct Advisors, Community Advisors, Discrimination Advisors and Beer and Sex advisors.
The Counseling Center currently employs six counselors, hiring a new counselor following the retirement of Former Director Patrick Gilligan this summer. The Counseling Center also employs an additional part-time counselor. Miller said the Counseling Center is able to handle the number of students coming in the door. “I do not think that we are understaffed,” she said.
Planning for the Future
In response to last spring’s recommendations, the Counseling Center is also in the process of putting together a task force to explore hiring outside contractors for additional on-call, overnight services. Currently, Kenyon’s counselors supply on-call services on a rotation, as part of their job description.
“It does sometimes create conflict when you’re out until three or five in the morning and then not really present for the people you’re seeing the next day,” Durham said.
Miller said details are still being worked out, but that a Kenyon counselor would partner with the on-call contractor to supply services.
“Basically, it’s padding, it’s cushion,” she said. “This would be an addition of services, rather than a subtraction.”
The Counseling Center, which takes both calls and walk-ins, is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays. Peer Counselor office hours, located across from the counseling offices, are open from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday through Thursday, and 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
Correction: An earlier edition of this article misstated that the counseling center had five counselors and had not hired anyone since the retirement of Former Director Patrick Gilligan. The Counseling Center has six full-time counselors and one part-time counselor. The Collegian regrets these errors.