Eastern’s counseling clinic: understaffed and overwhelmed

Students+walk+outside+the+Human+Services+Building+Monday+afternoon.+During+her+time+at+Eastern%2C+Vice+President+of+Student+Affairs+Anne+Flaherty+said+there+has+always+been+a+waitlist+for+the+Counseling+Clinic.+

Rob Le Cates

Students walk outside the Human Services Building Monday afternoon. During her time at Eastern, Vice President of Student Affairs Anne Flaherty said there has always been a waitlist for the Counseling Clinic.

Corryn Brock, Editor-in-Chief

Eastern’s counseling clinic is in crisis mode.

The interim assistant director of the counseling clinic, Lindsay Wilson, said the clinic is trying to keep its head above water with a waitlist of 41 and one counselor-administrator hybrid, two full-time counselors, two part-time counselors, one professor helping when they can and five graduate students working on limited hours.

With the clinic’s current staffing, they do not meet the requirements for accreditation with the International Accreditation of Counseling Services which states that accredited programs should make every attempt to maintain a staff to student ratio of 1 counselor to 1,000-1,500 students. Eastern is currently at a ratio of 1 counselor to 1,968 students, not accounting for high school dual credit students.

The staffing shortage is not unnoticed by students. In a recent survey by the Daily Eastern News, students shared their concerns about the challenges the clinic has been facing.

Responding to a question on their experiences with the counseling clinic, some students shared positive experiences, but a majority of students felt they had negative experiences. They shared the following:

  • “I feel like my experience has been positive overall, but it feels like they are overwhelmed this semester. I have heard about several people having issues getting connected with a counselor.”
  • “I’ve never gone because I know they have a waiting list and are very short-staffed. I’d feel guilty going to counseling and taking up a time slot someone else needs more.”
  • “I have heard only negative things about the on-campus counseling services, so I chose to go off-campus instead.”
  • “I got put on a waiting list then was never contacted again, that was in Fall 2019.”
  • “They are pretty much swamped with students and won’t get you help unless you say you are suicidal.”

Wilson said the understaffing puts limits on the work the clinic can accomplish. Part of the problem, according to Wilson, is the lack of an office manager in the clinic.

After the former office manager retired, counselors have taken on the task of working in the clinic’s front office, which can lead to them having less time to counsel students or the front desk going unmanned.

Wilson described it as a lose-lose situation: Either they take away from time that could go towards helping a student and have someone available to greet students and answer phones, or the office is left locked up with no one to address students’ needs while some time is gained to work with students.

“We need to be accessible to our students,” Wilson said.

Struggling to maintain this balance can lead to counselors to “feeling like (they are) drowning at times,” according to Wilson, but she said she believes it is a testament to the counseling clinic’s staff that they are able to work through their current situation.

“We couldn’t ask for a better team here,” Wilson said. “I can’t imagine how much more difficult it would be if we didn’t have the team that we have, if we didn’t have the freedom and the comfort level to be able to talk with each other and support each other.”

Wilson said in an ideal world, they would have an infinite number of counselors to meet the needs of students, but six full-time permanent counselors and a permanent administrator would be a close second.

As for addressing the current needs of the clinic, Eastern has begun to fill positions, including hiring a permanent director for the clinic, completing interviews for a new full-time counselor and beginning the process for hiring a new office manager.

 

Corryn Brock can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected]