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Problems with Counseling Services to be addressed

Many students who had a consultation with Belmont’s Counseling Services this fall have been waitlisted and told it will be weeks before they can receive individualized therapy.

Two of Belmont’s top administrators say that needs to change.

“It’s just not OK. That’s not acceptable,” said university Provost Dr. Thomas Burns after students told him about the waitlist.

The waitlist for Counseling Services grew in part because more students were seeking help. Almost 100 students came in over 11 business days in October, stretching the staff thin.

This “acute rise” in students would have equaled each counselor seeing more than nine new clients every day, said Associate Provost and Dean of Students Dr. John Delony.

At its peak, 66 students were on the waitlist to receive individualized care, said Director of Counseling Services Dr. Katherine Cornelius.

As of Tuesday, the waitlist for individual therapy was at 61.

One of those students on the waitlist is Belmont sophomore Eddie Torres. Torres went to Counseling Services in October and was told he was put on a waitlist with 47 other students and “probably wouldn’t be seen until next semester,” he said.

“I was upset, because if I’m going to counseling it’s because I need help,” said Torres. “I don’t think it’s fair that we have to wait such a long time to be seen.”

Students told Burns the waitlist for one-on-one counseling stretched into the spring, but Delony assured him that wasn’t accurate. Despite Delony’s assurances, Burns continued to hear student complaints.

“I heard it again, that’s got to be the case. If we’re hearing it in more than one place, it’s a pattern,” Burns said.

Delony agreed students’ concerns needed to be addressed and acknowledged “there’s a disconnect somewhere.”

“When Dr. Burns followed back to me and said ‘that’s the second time I’ve heard spring’ then my next call was, ‘What are we doing here? What can we do right now?’”

As soon as Delony and Burns were both aware of the problem, the university contracted three new counselors, Burns said.

In addition to new contracted counselors, Delony and Cornelius say they are making other changes to improve the care students receive.

Counseling Services will use online assisted therapy, counseling groups and partnerships with University Ministries and Fitness and Recreation to expand its services, said Cornelius.

Some of these additions, such as partnering with FitRec and group care for students, are already in place.

These changes are part of a transition into a stepped care method, which attempts to use different types of treatment to help students in need, Delony said.

“Group therapy sessions, crisis walk-ins and community referral consultations are available with no wait at this time,” Cornelius said.

But for some students, these new options aren’t as appealing as being able to talk to someone one-on-one.

“Belmont should hire more workers for counseling services,” said Torres. “It would be so much better to know that you can go talk to someone whenever you want and not have to be put on a waiting list.”

Delony agrees that the new methods shouldn’t replace individualized care and is determined to make sure students’ needs are being met, he said.

“If we need to bring in more people, we’ll bring in more people.”

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