The Cox Health and Counseling Center is in the process of returning to full staff after the loss of five counselors over the course of six months: Nikki Keller, Sarah Gabric and Elizabeth “Libby” Ladrach left at various points last semester. The other two counselors, Peter Oduwole and Lindsay Miller, departed over the summer.
“In the past, we’ve never really had a plan on how to operate our center,” Chris Smith, director of health and counseling, said. “Students show up, we see them. Students show up, we see them. And the next thing you know the school year ends.”
Over the summer, the Center hired one part-time mental health counselor and three full-time counselors, including one clinically trained psychologist. Yet they are still understaffed in comparison to past years when there were six full-time counselors at the Center.
“While I feel very positive and excited about the future of the counseling center, I do wish we were fully staffed right now,” said Meredith Bonham ’92, Vice President for Student Affairs. “And we’re just not.”
While some changes in the Counseling Center have been in reaction to internal events, many are proactive measures based on an external evaluation that occurred just after spring break. The external review was conducted by David Walden, director of the Counseling Center at Hamilton College, who put forward a list of recommendations following his time at Kenyon.
One of these recommendations was to redefine the role of Mike Durham, who at the time had been serving as associate director of the Counseling Center.
“His professional licensure is as a drug and alcohol counselor, so he’s not independently licensed for mental health,” Smith said. “So we needed to get him doing a role that was more aligned with drug and alcohol counseling.”
When he returns from medical leave, Durham is set to become the associate director for substance abuse and case management. His new responsibilities notably include a liaison role for instances of case management: determining how to help students with more multi-pronged issues that might require external mental health services.
“If a student ends up leaving campus and going to an inpatient facility, whoever’s been the counselor on-call becomes the case manager too,” Smith said. “So that means in addition to seeing students you’re trying to navigate talking to off-campus entities. Now, Mike will be the singular point of contact because we’re going to shape his schedule so that he has free time for those duties, for the substance abuse duties and also for supervising the groups like Beer and Sex and Peer Counselors.”
This decision also opens up the position for a new associate director — a role that Smith says is integral to reworking the center’s modus operandi.
“There is a national shortage right now for mental health professionals, and that shortage is particularly acute in rural areas,” Bonham said. “And so we’re challenged by our ability given our location to find someone who has the right qualifications and skills to serve in that role here at Kenyon.”
“The goal is to have somebody who can lead that team, create a vision for that team, maybe help us think about crisis walk-in hours, maybe help us think about embedding counselors,” Smith said.
Whoever is appointed as director is going to be a licensed professional counselor with a supervision credential (LPC-S), which has two staffing benefits. First, it allows the other counselors to advance their own licenses. Second, it brings about the opportunity for graduate interns to work at the center, which would provide more slots for students in need of counseling.
“In the past, if a student came and demanded to be seen, we bumped somebody,” Smith said. “And that’s not cool. Because if you’ve got a scheduled appointment and you’ve managed with whatever coping skills and resilience that you had and it’s still important for you to see somebody, we want to honor that.”
The Counseling Center is open to all students from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Appointments can be made in person or by calling the Counseling Center at 740-427-5643. For 24/7 Emergency Support after-hours, call 740-427-5000 and ask to speak with the counselor on call. For additional support, while not confidential, Peer Counselors can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.