BGSU’s Counseling Center receives a high demand of students who seek support. However, the Counseling Center is not properly staffed to meet the needs of each student.
The number of students utilizing the center and its resources has risen tremendously. Counseling Center Director Garrett Gilmer addressed several factors regarding the increase in traffic at the center.
“We’ve been really intentional on increasing awareness about mental health concerns and the importance of mental wellness and promoting mental health seeking, that's doing its job and it’s encouraging folks to seek health, which is great,” he said.
At the Counseling Center, students can see a counselor in two different ways: utilizing the walk-in hours, Monday-Friday from 1:30-4 p.m. or by scheduling a therapy session, which is typically done anywhere from two to three weeks in advance.
The number of students who come in for walk-in hours tends to fluctuate.
“Walk-ins are a bit unpredictable in terms of how fast things will move. We don’t know when students are going to come. Sometimes we have people get here at 12:30 p.m. because they want to be first in line and sometimes we don’t see people showing up until closer to 3 p.m.,” Gilmer mentioned. “It can make a difference in how many we see in a day, and then also what’s happening with each person, how much time they’ll need, we can’t predict on the front end.”
According to Gilmer, a walk-in appointment can take anywhere from 40 to 45 minutes.
Emily, a junior who requested her name be changed for privacy, used the Counseling Center for the first time this semester. She called the center asking to schedule an initial appointment, but the receptionist told her intake appointments must occur through walk-in hours. Emily’s schedule made it so she could only come to walk-in hours on Fridays.
Emily said she was at the center for two-and-a-half hours and spent nearly two hours of that time in the waiting room.
As therapy sessions or scheduled appointments are typical for those to schedule after a walk-in session, these therapy sessions are also known as treatment appointments. Treatment sessions are to update each student’s progress and through communication will be given advice through how to work out problems.
“We try to have 10 slots a week,” Gilmer said, regarding the scheduled sessions. “Those do fill up in terms of what gets scheduled. What happens though is we still get a high no-show rate from those scheduled intakes.”
Emily was offered the opportunity to join a therapy group by the psychologist who held her intake appointment at the center. She was told the group setting would meet every week, whereas there could be lower frequency for individual treatment appointments.
Emily said she needed the weekly treatment, so she felt like she had to join a group. While she said the experience has been helpful so far, it wasn’t ideal for her.
“I could put more people (staff) on walk-in every day, but then all of those folks (patients) would have less opportunities for follow-up appointments for the treatments that they came in for,” he said. “It’s a balancing act. We have steadily tried to find ways to increase the amount of overall staff time walk-in without jeopardizing treatment.”
Gilmer said there was a vacant full-time position available once a staff member retired. Instead of the vacant position, they split it into two part-time positions to “add more of a schedule for walk-in and more choice.” As a part-time position seems to be an effective way of seeking student patients, there still is not enough counselors to seek a high amount of individuals.
Gilmer explained the effectiveness of the system with the low counseling staff available.
“It’s not ideal. We recognize we’re trying to balance these things. We recognize that it’s not as convenient as we would like it to be for students. Short of having more counselors though, I don’t know what we can do to completely remedy that. I can tell you that, compared to the community we have a much more rapid access system than anywhere else. If you try to make an appointment in the community, you’re going to be waiting two or three weeks for your first appointment,” he said.
According to the Counseling Center website, under the faculty and staff section there are about six counselors listed on their website.
“We’ve had some growth in our staff size since 2008, but one of those positions we got was because the alcohol and drug program used to be in the student health center and they moved it here. So we got that position, but we also got this whole other program,” Gilmer said.
The Counseling Center may not have the appropriate number staff for the needs of students, but Gilmer continues to analyze past and present forms of procedure, in hopes to find a way to better accommodate students’ needs.
“They could probably give me 10 people and I could keep them busy, but that’s not the only solution. We also need to revolve on how we are doing some things,” he said.