Due to the work of Vice President for Student Affairs Meredith Harper Bonham ’92 and the staff of the Cox Health and Counseling Center, a therapy app called Talkspace will soon be available to Kenyon students. At the Student Council meeting on April 5, Bonham discussed the benefits to the app, and the student officers voted in favor of making it an option.
“It’s a great opportunity for students while they are away from campus, but it would also continue when classes start up again on campus next fall,” Bonham said during the virtual Student Council meeting. “We’re hopeful that this provides students with another mental health resource while away from campus.”
Talkspace, an app with over one million users, gives people the opportunity to connect with licensed therapists via their mobile device. After answering questions about themselves, they are provided with three potential therapists from which they can choose, and then their Talkspace room with their chosen therapist is available to them 24/7.
“[The app] is asynchronous, meaning that the student would text or send a video message to the therapist through the TalkSpace platform and then the therapist would respond. It’s not a live conversation like it would be over a video conference,” Bonham said in an interview with the Collegian. “The therapist would need to be available for five days a week during certain hours that would be very transparent to the student.”
Because of licensure regulations in the state of Ohio, non-Ohio residents do not have access to the telecounseling services provided by Kenyon’s counseling staff. As a result of these restrictions, Bonham has been working alongside them to come up with a solution that will account for the majority of the student body. In order to abide by state law restrictions, Talkspace allows for students to connect with a therapist located in their current state of residence.
“Talkspace was a service that we had looked into about a year ago and were really interested in, but there was a cost factor so we began to look at other options,” Bonham said. “So that was the natural service that we returned to when we were thinking about what might be possible [now].”
Aside from addressing issues of state residency, Talkspace was an appealing choice because of other issues presented by students on campus, such as counselor availability and issues of diversity.
“As many of you know, students have been seeking greater diversity among the counseling staff, and that has proven to be challenging because of our ability to recruit folks to work in Knox County,” Bonham said at the Student Council meeting. “There are literally hundreds of therapists who are represented through Talkspace of a variety of different identities. So students would have the benefit of connecting with someone that they feel just might understand them perhaps a little bit better than someone who doesn’t share those identities.”
Sophomore Class President Skyler Lesser-Roy ’22 stated that she agreed with Bonham when the idea was first presented to the Task Force on Emotional Health and Wellbeing.
“I think that this is an incredible idea. A lot of areas of our counseling department are fixed with this app: issues of diversity, issues of identity and representation…” Lesser-Roy said in an interview with the Collegian. “That ability to talk to someone at any time, anywhere, is truly remarkable.”
Because the app is costly, Bonham began her presentation at the Student Council meeting with a financial request, asking that the Council provide a little less than half of the funding necessary. At this point, the app will be made available to students for a 15-month period of time.
“I don’t want to give any guarantees beyond the 2020-21 academic physical year,” Bonham said in the meeting. “If it’s a success, and if students have responded positively to it, then I think we would want to continue it. But let’s see how it goes for this first year and whether there is sufficient usage to justify it continuing beyond that period of time.”
After this request, members of the senior class asked Bonham for further clarification, specifically whether or not this app would be made available to seniors post-graduation. When she stated that students had to be currently enrolled at Kenyon to use Talkspace, seniors asked if adjustments could be made.
“I think it’s hugely important that seniors have access to this service—we are the student demographic that has been disproportionately affected by school shutdowns,” Teddy Hannah-Drullard ’20 wrote in an email to Associate Provost for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Theodore Mason.
Bonham contested that although she recognizes Hannah-Drullard’s argument, it becomes a “slippery slope.”
“Once you join the ranks of alumni, who would we be able to allow access to it? At what point would we draw the line?” she asked the members of the meeting.
Because of this ongoing discussion, Talkspace remains a work in progress. With this vote from the Student Council, however, the administration has been given the go-ahead to sort through the logistics of making this app available to students.
“Right now, there are a bunch of students that cannot be served by our counseling center and this is kind of filling that void,” Director of Student Engagement Sam Filkins said in the meeting. “It’s a short-term benefit, but it’s a really important one for a lot of people.”