Counseling Center diversifies services with art therapy, mental health workshops

Most of the new services do not require an appointment


Central Michigan University's new counseling center activity room in on Sept. 7 in Foust 135. 

It's no secret Central Michigan University students often have to wait for days before they can receive help from the Counseling Center. With an increase in demand for mental health services, the center is facing the same dilemma other universities are facing throughout America.

According to a 2015 report by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State University, the number of students visiting counseling centers increased by 30 percent between 2009 and 2015, while enrollment grew by less than 6 percent during the same span. 

Counselors provided 417 urgent/same day appointments during the 2016-17 academic year, according to a report provided by the Counseling Center. Last fall, the waitlist to see a counselor peaked at 108 students in November. Usually the appointment schedule fills up around midterms and in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving Break. In the past that has left many stressed, anxious students with few options to turn to.

"One of my friends went and she said it was good, but it took a long time to get in," said Saint Johns sophomore Noelle Cramer. 

Interim Director of Counseling Services Melissa Hutchinson explained the center provides short-term counseling. Hutchinson said the center doesn’t provide diagnosis or assessment for mental disorders, and counselors will not prescribe medication to students. The center also doesn’t provide court-ordered mandatory counseling. However, Counseling Center staff are happy to direct and refer students to services that aren’t provided on campus.

Students in crisis do not need to make an appointment and will never be turned away from the Counseling Center, Hutchinson said, regardless of whether or not there is a waiting list. The Counseling Center is hoping to keep their waiting list short with the new "drop in" sessions and by increasing staff numbers.

“Even if there is a waiting list, if there a student in crisis who needs to be seen right away, we will get them in,"  Hutchinson said. 

Anthony Voisin, associate vice president for student affairs, said the center hired two new counselors and an office professional over the summer. The center also has hired a Graduate Assistant for the fall semester. She will not take counseling appointments, but instead, will increase social media presence and student outreach.

At its June 28 meeting, the CMU Board of Trustees approved a $225 student services fee. In an interview with Central Michigan Life, Vice President of Finance and Administrative Services Barrie Wilkes and Director of Financial Planning and Budgets Joe Garrison said revenue from the fee will fund several services including advising, the Office of Enrollment and Student Services and the Counseling Center. 

How much of that money will be allocated to counseling is unclear. Some revenue from the fee is paying for the new counselors and office professional.

"We are going to add resources and see what that does," Wilkes said.

Voisin said the center is also trying to help students outside of Foust Hall, with a new service pending approval. TAO, or Therapist Assisted Online, is an online platform that can be used as a supplement to therapy sessions. It can also be used as a self-guided course to maintain mental wellness, according to its website. The platform provides interactive and educational tools for students to use. It also has mobile features and progress-tracking.

“Instead of waiting for an appointment in three weeks, there are other things students can do between appointments,” Voisin said. 

A survey created by the American College Health Association found that in spring 2017, 61 percent of students “felt overwhelming anxiety” in the past year and almost 40 percent of students were so depressed it was difficult to function. 

"Anything the counseling services can provide would be fantastic," said Rochester Hills senior Scott Schlagel. "Mental Health is an issue we don't really talk about and something that we don't really focus on."

New Services

In an effort to minimize wait times this semester and expand student outreach, the center is offering new services that don’t require an appointment. Among those services are art and music sessions, as well as workshops to help students learn how cope with stress and practice self-care. 

The new “drop in” sessions include art journaling, for those who enjoy Pinterest, an art and creativity session where students can “explore their thoughts and feelings through art” and a music session called “And on that Note,” where students can play percussion instruments or bring in their own instruments. 

"Sometimes I get worked up when I have a boatload of homework, so I would consider going... to relax and take an hour to myself," Cramer said.

None of these sessions require an appointment. Students can come and go as they please during each session.

“It’s a way to unplug and be creative with other people,” said Associate Director of Counseling Services Michelle Bigard. “People can come once or for the whole semester. We welcome people to just de-stress.”

Besides the creative sessions meant to help students unplug, the Counseling Center will also include workshops, which are meant to provide students with the necessary skills to take control of their mental health. The workshops are considered a preventative measure.

Workshops are offered in four-week increments, three times each semester.  Workshops are different from support groups because students who attend workshops do not need to share any information about their situation. The workshops are essentially interactive classes where students can learn how to take care of themselves and their mental health. 

“These groups are helping students understand their body and their mind and the things that you can do to reduce stress and anxiety,” Bigard said.

Hemlock freshman Alexis Messing said sessions that offer support instead of direct counseling are a great idea.

"That could help a lot of kids who think they have to sit in their room and help themselves," Messing said.

The Counseling Center will continue to provide one-on-one sessions with counselors and support group meetings. 

The support groups are:

· International Student Support Group

· Interpersonal Violence Support Group

· Sexual Assault Survivor Support Group

· Grief and Loss Support Group

· Graduate Student Support Group

A full schedule of workshops and meetings can be found on the Counseling Center website.

For students who don't want to wait until finals week to spend time with therapy dogs, "Paw for Pause" is a program the Counseling Center is continuing from last semester. From 3-5 p.m. on the first Friday of each month, students can come to the Counseling Center to cuddle with therapy dogs, no appointment necessary.

If students don't have time for a 45-minute session with a counselor, or just need one or two sessions, "Walk in Wednesdays" may be a good option. From 1-4 p.m. on Wednesday afternoons, students can meet with a counselor for a 20-minute mini-session. These sessions are meant for students who want to explore counseling options, need help solving a specific problem, or need a quick consultation between appointments. “Walk in Wednesdays” are not designed for students who are in crisis. 

"I don't know what I'm doing next week, so I may not be able to schedule an appointment that far in advance," Cramer said. "It would be useful to walk in and see someone right away."