Counseling center sees increase in summer demand


The university counseling center is located in room 102 in Foust Hall. [CM Life photo | file]

Counseling center sees surge during summer semester - staff expect trend to continue

Coping with the pandemic year has proven to be no easy task. However, free counseling services available at Central Michigan University have been helping students weather the storm.

As the pandemic continues, counseling center appointments are still peaking - even in the summer months. Due to Telehealth options, staff expect the trend to stick around going into the academic year.

“COVID was a year of active trauma for everyone,” said Executive Director of Counseling Services Melissa Hutchinson. “There was so much loss. There was so much uncertainty. When folks are in the midst of trauma, they don't know what their needs are, they're just trying to survive.”

The counseling center normally has limited hours and staff in the summer, Hutchinson said. This summer however, has had an increase in demand for counseling services which the center has had to accommodate.

At the June 24 Board of Trustees Meeting the Academic and Student Affairs Committee discussed the need for additional staffing in the counseling center to meet summer demand. 

Hutchinson said she thinks the reason for the increase is because students have reached a point where “their basic needs are met and can begin to focus on their other needs again.”

“They're no longer just about surviving, but they want to thrive,” Hutchinson said. “So they're starting to ask for help, they're starting to pick up the pieces, they're starting to deal with their trauma, their loss.”

Counseling Center staff said the pandemic tipped the scales in regard to appointments and Care Reports in the 2020-21 academic year. Within the last two years, Care Reports have increased by 120 percent. 

Hutchinson also attributes telehealth to the increased counseling demand. The service gives global campus students and those who are home for the summer access to counseling from wherever they are. Hutchinson said it also offers students access to counseling in a space they are most comfortable in. 

For graduate student Christine Gwisdala, telehealth was a big selling point. 

“If I’d had to go in, I probably wouldn't have done it,” Gwisdala said. “Because it would have been another kind of uncomfortable situation. So, knowing that I could do (virtual counseling) was really, really helpful.”

Students no longer have to walk into an office and meet a counselor face to face, which can be difficult for those struggling with anxiety. 

Gwisdala said that even if the pandemic hadn’t happened, a virtual option may have given her the motivation she needed as an undergraduate student to take advantage of the free counseling services at CMU. 

While working in between graduating from CMU and starting her graduate degree, Gwisdala said she regretted not using the counseling services while they were available to her.

“I'm kind of kicking myself for not taking advantage of it now,” Gwisdala said. “I'm like ‘man, I was really stubborn and it would have helped a lot of stuff and I feel like I would have been overwhelmed a lot less.”’

According to Hutchinson, even when COVID-19 restrictions are completely lifted, telehealth will continue to be offered.

To learn about mental health resources or schedule an appointment with the Counseling Center, visit its website. Visit the Care website to submit a Care Report.