Letter to the Editor

Re: “UCI Counseling Center’s Doors Closed.”
In the April 8th edition of The New University, I saw a commentary titled “UCI Counseling Center’s Doors Closed.” Although I was pleased to see that the author supported the need for additional resources — a sentiment that we all share and for which we would like to thank the author — I was disappointed that the commentary did not feature quotations from administrators who would know the most about the Counseling Center.
We are working on addressing the gap between the demand and the availability for individual appointments, and we compassionately recognize the student’s frustration. Since the Director of the Counseling Center, the Associate Director, the Assistant Director, and I did not have an opportunity to be quoted in the original piece, I would like to offer a few thoughts.
The average wait time until a first appointment is indeed higher than any of us would want. However, the length of the wait changes substantially depending on the time of the academic year that the student wishes to make an appointment; early in the quarter, the fall, and the summer are not as busy and the wait until the first appointment is dramatically lower. When there is a wait time, it is influenced by a variety of factors: the student’s class, work and co-curricular schedules; counselor preferences (for example preferences for certain expertise areas, gender, or fluency in languages other than English); and a number of other factors. Any student who finds the wait time intolerable can come through the doors of the Counseling Center for an urgent care appointment that day. The definition of urgent for us is when a student feels that they are in an emergency, it’s urgent. The Counseling Center sees students who walk in with a variety of concerns and our lines of communication are always open, even in the evenings and on the weekends with our answering service.
We do indeed have an obligation to prioritize the needs of those students who may be a threat to themselves or others, out of touch with reality, or otherwise presenting with serious mental health crises. We must treat those clients first. This is the reality that college and university counseling centers all over the country are facing. Part of living and learning in a community is acknowledging that we must defer, sometimes, to others who have more urgent needs than our own. However, we at UC Irvine take all students mental health needs very seriously. As soon as there are open spaces for students, we take students off of the wait list immediately, and we even do preventative work in the community so that we may have fewer emergencies and more opportunities to get ahead of the issue before it becomes an emergency.
For example, the Counseling Center performs a variety of functions on campus to address the wide range of concerns in our community. Individual counseling is but one of the many resources offered at the Counseling Center. The Center offers workshops and groups on topics as varied as issues facing graduate students, Asian-American students, and students coping with anxiety and depression. The Center offers mental health screenings on Ring Road as part of National Depression Screening Day. The Counseling Center makes presentations in classes, to groups on campus, and to faculty and staff about recognizing signs of distress in yourself and others. Additionally, the COACH program, under the direction of a licensed psychologist, exists so that students can get coaching from their peers, who are very well trained. We have an award-winning program for students who are on academic probation, and we have an LGBT peer program to address the needs of our diverse community. In addition, the wellness services in the Wellness, Health and Counseling cluster are broader than just those services in the Counseling Center. For example, the CARE office provides services for survivors of intimate partner violence, sexual assault and stalking. Prior to this academic year, we had one clinical social worker providing services to the community, able to address issues such as withdrawals, hospitalizations, academic issues, needs for emergency housing and other practical student needs. Thanks to the campus’ gift, we were able to hire another social worker this year to bring to the Counseling Center, thanks to Student Fee Advisory Committee funding that we applied for and received.
These accomplishments are going to make an impact on the community. We are grateful for the administrative support that we have received over the past five years, and at the same time we know that there is always room for improvement. We will continue to make our arguments for more resources. Our staff works tirelessly during the day, evenings and weekends to meet the increasing needs of the student body and their work needs to be acknowledged. We look forward to partnering with members of our community so that we can all help create the environment that allows all students to thrive. We, along with interested students who wish to partner with us, can and will continue to advocate for more staff, resources and space to address the increasing needs of our student body.

With appreciation for the call for more resources,
Marcelle Holmes, Ph.D.
Assistant Vice Chancellor
Wellness, Health and Counseling