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More counselors needed as demand skyrockets

Waiting rooms are filled with people who are nervous.

No matter where you’re sitting or what you’re waiting for, the atmosphere is almost always the same, even though designers may have replaced dreary gray furniture with more optimistic colors. Pamphlets and magazines that are sometimes thumbed but rarely read,are scattered on side tables. The office manager who quietly controls the traffic flow sits a few steps away.

At some offices at Belmont, just getting to this place can be hard enough. Perhaps nowhere on campus is there a need that has as long a waiting list as does Counseling Services.

About a year ago this month, I knew these details a little too well. I sat in a waiting room on the second floor of Gabhart. I was unsure what to expect as I waited to start a counseling session I wasn’t sure I wanted to be in.

In hindsight, I was lucky just to be there.

My fortune wasn’t because of my state of mind, even though there were many ways my sanity could have improved. No, it seemed like luck alone I was in the waiting room that Wednesday morning less than a week after I requested help.

If not for a concerned faculty member who called counseling with some urgency, I probably would have waited weeks before I could see a therapist. And by then I might have convinced myself that I didn’t need to go.

That type of wait is typical for many Belmont students who seek professional help when they struggle with the stresses of academics, debt, relationships and other pressures that come in today’s college environment.

The problem, unfortunately, is not something that department can do much to improve. According to the university’s website, counseling services has three full-time counselors and eight part-time contractors that come in a day or two every week.

For a school likely to enroll more than 7,000 students next year, that number is unacceptable. Unfortunately, the majority of universities face the same issue.

Let me clarify that my beef has nothing to do with the Office of Counseling Services. My experience was top-notch, and I’m confident most Belmont students that have gone to Counseling Services will say the same. Once I was in the system, I was treated with care and respect through the weeks that I needed to spend to work through some stresses. The department simply doesn’t have the staff to match the growing demand on campus.

With that in mind, Belmont needs to make this department capable of handling the amount of students the school will enroll for the next 10 years, not the number on campus 10 years ago. While it may be hard for the university to bring some departments and offices to a place where they meet the school’s capacity, counseling in particular should not and cannot be among them. Keeping students in strong mental shape should be a major priority at this school like any other place of higher education.

In this case, a solution can be fairly simple. Let’s hire people for counseling, even as many departments are in a holding pattern. Bringing on additional full-time counselors would be ideal, but getting additional contractors on board would be a more realistic and plausible first step.

At this point, any initial step could be massive, especially for the students who need it the most.

Vision editor Brian Wilson is a senior journalism major.

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