Counseling services should help students, not hurt them

By Editorial Board

How can students feel safe at Columbia if therapy dogs in the library seem more helpful than counseling services?

As reported on Page 24, two students who alleged they were sexually assaulted on campus tried to get help from the Title IX and Counseling Services Offices, but inadequate care by the college only made their situations worse.

It is deeply troubling that two students who had already faced harrowing personal trauma could be further hurt by the institution meant to protect them,  but it is even more unsettling that their accounts are part of a problem students have been uneasy about for years.

The college advertises 12 free counseling sessions each academic year, but just because these sessions may not come with a monetary cost does not mean they cannot take an emotional toll when services are neither adequate nor accessible.

According to the counseling center’s website, most students should expect to hear from a therapist 24 hours after an initial 15-minute phone consultation, but one student claimed she waited weeks before having a session at the center. For many who have sought therapy services at the college, that is not hard to believe. Long wait times have plagued counseling services for years, even as far back as 2013, as The Chronicle reported in that year’s March 3 issue. A reported 50 students were waitlisted during the previous fall semester. 

Approximately one in five college students is diagnosed with a mental illness, according to an October 2016 study in Cambridge University’s Journal of Psychological Medicine. The psychiatric wellness of college students continues to be a pressing issue nationwide, and it is a problem that equally affects Columbia’s student body.

With a large number of students expected to experience mental health problems and the dangerous repercussions that can come with inadequate treatment, how can the college ensure students’ needs are met with only five full-time counselors?

Columbia students in need of counseling services are cornered into a situation in which they receive little to no support. They potentially have the option of waiting longer than is acceptable to see a counselor who may tell them not to even talk about their trauma, as a student claimed on Page 24, or could put themselves into further debt by seeking, or being told to seek, outside counseling that can cost hundreds of dollars per session. In either scenario, their mental health needs are not addressed and could be made worse by the stress such a difficult situation can cause.

The bare minimum of student needs cannot be met by the college. But it is an even greater affront that Columbia continues to brand itself as an accepting environment when putting such little effort into counseling services can push students with mental illness further into silence or wreak even more havoc on their mental wellness by causing an unnecessary amount of stress.

The least Columbia can do is be honest about what services it can offer. Rather than continuing to promote a false image of the college as accepting and accommodating, the college should not fool students into believing their needs can be met. If the college wants to provide adequate counseling services to students, then there should be a push to evaluate the school based on the quality of such resources.

If the counseling center continues to recommend students seek outside resources for services because therapists cannot meet demand, which already defeats the purpose of even having on-campus resources, then the college should actually work with city health organizations to bring down the burdensome cost of therapy sessions.

Academic responsibilities already put enough strain on many students’ mental health; the college should not add on to that stress.