February 6, 2014
Nestled on the second floor of the Thomas Rudd Health Center, Hamilton’s Office of Counseling and Psychological Services has provided a safe haven for students to confidentially discuss personal issues. The four counselors offer individual appointments and group therapy sessions free-of-charge, in addition to being on call 24/7 to deal with whatever crises might arise within Hamilton’s community.
As detailed in this week’s cover story, however, during the last few years the Counseling Center has struggled to reconcile high demand for its services with limited resources. Last academic year, despite the existence of only three counselors, around 18 percent of Hamilton’s student body utilized the Counseling Center (about 330 students), with last semester seeing such great demand that a waiting list formed of over 40 students. Given the gravity of many situations that reach the Counseling Center as well as Hamilton’s promise to “develop students as human beings” and allow students to “realize their fullest capacities,” a significant waiting list for critical mental health services is unacceptable.
Yet the steps taken by the administration to improve the Counseling Center’s capabilities—and thus prevent lengthy wait lists—are encouraging. The Counseling Center’s two new therapy groups, one for survivors of sexual assault and one dealing more generally with stresses of young adult life, will offer further opportunities for students needing to discuss problems that hinder their Hamilton experience. Moreover, the Counseling Center’s new scheduling format, which will operate on a first-come, first-serve basis rather than having students hold weekly slots for an entire semester, should prevent excessive waitlists from forming in the first place, though this change also has the potential to limit high-quality counselor relationships in favor of getting as many students in the door as possible. Most importantly, however, the Counseling Center hired an additional counselor, Dennis LaLonde, to its staff after Thanksgiving. While, as of now, LaLonde is only secured through the remainder of the 2013-2014 year, this will at least help more students to schedule individual appointments during this semester.
Taken as a whole, the changes are undoubtedly for the better. While some might question the devotion of increased resources to counseling, as opposed to purposes more directly related to Hamilton’s academic mission, it is crucial to recognize that students’ mental health is inextricably linked to their academic and extracurricular performance. A 2004 study led by Joseph E. Zins and Roger P. Weissberg, for instance, found that students who receive social-emotional support and prevention services achieve better academically in school.
Of course, the majority of students at Hamilton do not utilize counseling. But for the 300-plus students that do—a number that will likely grow in coming years—enhancing the Counseling Center’s resources is critical. A strong and useful counseling center is synonymous with a passionate, successful and thriving student body.