Tuesday, January 18, 2022
HomeOpinionOp-EdsStudents are Left to Fend for Themselves as Counseling Services Remain Virtual

Students are Left to Fend for Themselves as Counseling Services Remain Virtual

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As students continue to endure emotional and social consequences of the pandemic, UCI has failed to sufficiently support its students and faculty with proper mental health services. From being refused walk-ins to waiting months to connect with a therapist, students are continuously met with barriers to entry. Citing strict COVID-19 safety regulations, the Counseling Center refuses to accommodate in-person counseling services and will continue to remain virtual through the end of winter 2022 quarter.

Currently offered to students are virtual short-term therapy services, workshop sessions and referral support for students interested in longer-term counseling — which UCI considers any service with the “potential to last multiple month[s].”

Before any decision is made on treatment, however, students must first schedule an initial assessment appointment, currently only offered in the form of a phone call or Zoom meeting.

Individual appointments are offered to students who have completed an initial assessment with the recommendation of “short term, time-limited” therapy. Here, students are assigned to a therapist within the Counseling Center, who may be a different person than the counselor who conducted the initial assessment. According to the site, most students meet with their therapists on a bi-weekly basis, and appointments are available between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday — a time where most students are concerned with class or work.

Students may schedule an appointment with a Case Manager, a Licensed Social Worker, to receive referrals and resource support as well. Their support includes referrals for long-term therapy services, therapy after-hours and specialized care for eating disorders or addiction. Otherwise, UCI itself does not offer long-term therapy services; they’ve quietly deflected that responsibility. 

As for online resources, UCI is currently partnered with two different third-party programs that offer remote counseling services to students. TAO, or Therapy Assisted Online, is a telehealth service offered to students who register with the site. It’s essentially Zoom for therapy. 

Students are also encouraged to register an account with The Shrink Space, a referral database that allows students to search for off-campus therapists with regards to their area of expertise, accepted insurance and location. Still, many therapists within walking distance of campus do not currently accept UCI’s UC Student Health Insurance Plan (UCSHIP), Anthem, and most, if not, all available referrals are only offering online sessions. Students who do find a therapist through The Shrink Space will also need to contact the Student Health Center’s Insurance Office for authorization prior to their first appointment.

Workshop sessions first require completion of an initial assessment, where students are then referred to a certain group. As of March 18, 2020, all workshop sessions are offered remotely. While the Counseling Center’s site claims these group sessions “do not require contact or screenings with the Counseling Center,” students interested in participating are later told they must “complete an Initial Assessment appointment with the Counseling Center.” 

At large, the lack of sufficient resources available via the Counseling Center’s website — itself visually inaccessible, riddled with blatant typos and informational inconsistencies — suggests a general inattentiveness to students’ mental health. Not to mention that most appointments are scheduled weeks beyond the call date, essentially putting students on hold.

Screenshots taken from the UCI Counseling Center website’s Outreach and Prevention Programming, Short Term Therapy Services, and Group and Workshop Services, respectively.

The only service offered immediately to students are “crisis care appointments,” which can be made by calling the Counseling Center directly at 949-824-6457, and are offered “twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week.” However, urgent care appointments are only offered virtually or over-the-phone — no in-person allowed. For walk-ins, students are expected to self-identify as undergoing a mental health crisis before being offered an urgent care appointment. Unless such language is used, students are redirected to scheduling a virtual intake appointment, which, again, may take weeks to occur. It is here, among other faults in the Counseling Center’s services, where students are reduced to moments of crisis before being paid attention to. 

The Counseling Center has attempted to bridge the gap with UCI’s Be Well, an online search tool for UCI-offered wellness programs and initiatives, and “Just In Case,” a crisis support app that offers advice in moments of distress and free anonymous mental health screenings, among others. None of these resources, however, fully remedy the intense or immediate need to speak with a counselor or therapist in-person; they are passive solutions to an active and ongoing problem.

Frankly, virtual meetings and in-person sessions are incomparable. For those with certain physically or emotionally extenuating circumstances, online sessions were never a viable option for counseling services in the first place. Think about it — how many students currently live with roommates or family members?

Much of UCI’s current emphasis on mental health feels more like an afterthought. The process of intake assessments, appointments and referrals can drag on for months, leaving students with little to no care for days on end. But when it comes to mental health, time is of the essence — the systems currently in place only make it harder for students to readily and effectively connect with a counselor or therapist.

It is no longer a question of whether or not students need help, but when and how students are able to receive it. The systems in place only seem to deter students from seeking help; the bureaucratic procedures and strict COVID-19 safety restrictions make reaching out for help a near insurmountable task. Students desperately need walk-in services, drop-in appointments — because in the heat of a mental health crisis, you cannot wait to schedule an appointment or speak to an operator on the other end of a hotline.

This a call to action, for there is an urgent and immediate need for in-person, accessible mental health services provided on campus directly to the student population. At times like these, students have to be pushy, aggressively advocating for their own well-being — a direct and active approach to mental health that may feel uncomfortable or inconsiderate as they put themselves first.

Mia Hammett is an Entertainment Editor for the 2021 fall quarter. She can be reached at hammettm@uci.edu