Belmont University Counseling Services is putting its resources online and offering alternative support options due to the spread of COVID-19 and social distancing protocols.
“We have just thought about different ways of making Counseling Services more accessible, and how we can be more helpful to students that actually access Counseling Services, as well as those that aren’t likely to access Counseling Services otherwise,” said Belmont therapist Georgetta Harris-Wyatt.
Most notably, students can now make virtual appointments through Blackboard and their myBelmont accounts. Unlike former physical walk-in appointments, the virtual scheduling option allows students to meet with a licensed therapist online on the same day at a scheduled time.
“Normally, if they walked in, they would kind of wait for the counselor to become available. Now, they know what time they’re going to see someone. There’s no waiting or guessing game,” Harris-Wyatt said.
Harris-Wyatt, who holds a doctorate in counseling psychology, said students have adapted quickly to new digital resources.
“They’re on their phones, and they’re using this medium anyways, so it came more easily for them,” she said.
Sophomore elementary education major Torie Glenn appreciates Belmont’s consistency in reaching out to herself and her housemates, who have remained in their home in an effort to socially distance.
“The first week they called us and just checked in periodically, but at the beginning and end of each week, they send out an email with all the resources we can utilize, which I love,” Glenn said.
As a student who has used Belmont’s mental health services in the past, Glenn has a student care team check in on her household on the weekends, letting them know that they have support whenever they need it. Since receiving these emails and phone calls, Glenn has felt more informed and aware of the support that’s available to her.
“We’ve been throwing out a lot of different ideas and seeing what’s the most helpful to our students,” said Harris-Wyatt. “I think the university’s been proactive in this because there has rarely been a time when a clinician, administrators and all these people are experiencing the same stressor as a student or client.”
One of the most significant additions to Belmont’s mental health resources is Therapist Assisted Online, an interactive suite containing various self-help tools, healthy coping suggestions and educational articles on various mental health topics. Recently purchased by Belmont, TAO is available for students and faculty with a Belmont email address.
Jeff Phillips, a professor in the motion pictures department, has utilized Belmont’s mental health services and encourages his students to look for help in order to make the most of the resources available.
“What we can do as a university is let you know that this is a safe space to talk about issues that you might be having, and make you feel that it is normal,” said Phillips. “In 2020, I don’t know anyone who is not dealing with stress. It’s a pandemic, and there is some comfort in knowing you’re not alone in this. And so, once you’re able to come out and admit, ‘Yeah, I need to talk to somebody about it,’ great. Let’s help you find the right person to do this.”
An advocate for destigmatizing mental health problems both in and out of the classroom, Phillips is working to establish “a new baseline normal,” where open dialogue between faculty and students is imperative to academic performance and mental wellness.
“How can you apply yourself to anything if your mental health is not in check?” Phillips said. “Understand that everything flows from your good mental health.”
In addition to online scheduling and TAO, Counseling Services has created a virtual support group called COVID Sucks!, where students can share experiences, vent emotions and normalize talking about mental health. The group meets at 2 p.m. on Wednesdays, and prior registration is not required.
Along with virtual support groups, Counseling Services is launching short individual sessions called Let’s Talk, where students meet with a counselor in 10 to 15 minute sessions to voice concerns, ask questions or receive quick resources from trained counselors.
“These Let’s Talk sessions are meant to say, ‘I’m not even sure if I need to see someone, but I know everybody’s experiencing something and I just wanted to check it out,’” said Harris-Wyatt.
Though it takes discipline and mindfulness, Phillips believes that students can better their mental health through communication, setting a routine, rewarding themselves, taking breaks when stress is increasing and acknowledging the help around them.
All Counseling Services resources will be virtual for the rest of the semester unless there is an immediate crisis that requires in-person care. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.belmont.edu/counseling for additional resources.
This article written by Holly Vonder.