By Jacqueline Jedrych
On-campus counseling is regarded by professionals and students as a great resource for those who feel like they need to work through personal issues with a counselor. In recent years across the country, there has been a steady rise in students using these resources as well as an increase in the length of their usage. The Counseling Center at Catholic University is seeing no different.
“About four years ago, we started seeing slow but steady increases in the percentage of the full-time student body we were seeing, going from 12% four years ago to 14% the next year, and then holding steady at 15% for the two years after that,” said Dr. Rayburn, Director of the Counseling Center.
Why? There are no exact answers, Dr. Rayburn said. Studies attribute it to many things- an increase in awareness of resources, a lessening of social stigma, and a prioritization of mental health in the midst of a chaotic world.
“No one has definitive answers. For a number of years now, universities have been making a push— and we do the same with outreach and training— to try to make students aware of resources on campus for mental health needs,” Rayburn said. “I think this started after the tragedy at Virginia Tech, the shooting.”
Rayburn shared that it is in everyone’s awareness that the need for mental health resources were needed on campuses and that students and faculty should be aware of mental health issues in order to help others and offer outreach. Rayburn said that the goal of outreach and training is to encourage people to visit the counseling center.
As the demand for services increases, the strain on the staff grows. The center staffs 27 people including psychologists, social workers, a psychiatric nurse practitioner, and psychology and social work graduate student counselors. There are only nine full-time senior staffers and 18 part-time staffers, ranging from half-time to only a few hours per week. Staffing decisions are not made by the center, making hiring new counselors a laborious process.
“We are trying to think of solutions to maximize the amount of treatment we give and minimize student wait times and increase access because we all want to help students,” said Dr. Karen Miller, a staff social worker. “None of us want to see services cut in the service of ‘making room’ in a haphazard way. That’s why we are trying to think creatively to come up with ways to meet the needs of the students with the resources we have.”
One of these creative solutions is for clients who attend regular therapy and notice improvement but wish to continue with treatment. They can decrease their sessions from once every week to once every two weeks. This allows clients to continue receiving the help they need, while also allowing for more appointments in a given week’s time.
“There’s a limited number of hours in the day that we have on our schedules, so we can’t just grow the hours forever,” said Miller. “So the way that we increased all those client appointments [last year] is that people were just coming in earlier [in the year] and staying for longer.”
In addition to walk-ins, which are emergency appointments used for any reason, the Counseling Center has also increased the kinds of groups available for group therapy. The groups vary on what the presenting issues are and what environment a client would feel most comfortable. Each student has an unlimited number of group sessions, used by those who run out of weekly appointments or want a connection to the center without going to, or in addition to, weekly therapy.
“We have something for most students,” said Miller. “We are trying really hard to have a menu of things to choose from- whether it’s individual therapy, whether it’s walk-in or emergency, whether it’s group, whether it’s outreach and consultation- so we can try and attend to student’s needs.”The Center’s goal is always to help students, and with some new ways to reach more people, they have something for any student who wants assistance. If you or a friend is in need of help at the Counseling Center, visit to the office in 127 O’Boyle Hall, call 202-319-5765, or visit the website to learn more.