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Counseling Center changes seek to accomodate growing demand

By Kaitlin McCabe '16

February 6, 2014

For the Hamilton College Office of Counseling and Psychological Services, the start of 2014 is more than just a new year; it is a new era, consisting of significant changes and additions to its services.

The Hamilton College Counseling Center, located on the second floor of the Thomas Rudd Health Center, has successfully fulfilled its mission to “enhance and support the intellectual and personal growth of the Hamilton College Community” for years. Any enrolled student is eligible to seek help from the Counseling Center free-of-charge for a variety of concerns, including relationship problems, family problems, depression, eating disorders, alcohol and drug abuse issues, anxiety, loneliness, homesickness and stress. Through individual and group therapy, the Counseling Center has assisted students in the development of positive mental health and self-esteem, a sense of identity and meaningful relationships, as well as academic competencies, effective decision-making skills and a life-long approach to learning.

According to the Counseling Center’s official data, it served approximately 18 percent of Hamilton’s students during the 2012-2013 academic year.  Yet, from nearly the start of last semester, 14 percent of the Hamilton population has already chosen to utilize the Counseling Center’s services.  Of course, that number is expected to increase as the year progresses.  The number of requests for counseling last semester greatly and unexpectedly exceeded the Office’s ability to meet the high demand.

Consequently, the Center was forced to create a waiting list. Students who had already seen counselors for an initial session were unable to schedule additional appointments due to counselors’ timetables being filled to capacity.

During the Fall 2013 semester, the maximum number of students officially placed on the Center’s waitlist reached 41.  This, however, does not include students who chose not to place themselves on the list once they were informed that the Center was unable to provide an appointment and students who chose not to contact the Center after hearing about its abnormally tight schedule.

Should the Center’s schedule remain as booked as last semester, Hamilton students might have to wait up to nine days for their next “regular” appointment.  In that past, the Counseling Center guaranteed students that the maximum wait period would be seven days between appointments.

These scheduling conflicts have been unsettling to several members of the Hamilton community, especially those students who rely on the regularity of weekly appointments with counselors.

In an anonymous Student Assembly survey from December 2013, a student expressed this distress in saying, “It would be great if the Counseling Center could make time for more appointments. I really could have used someone to speak with this semester, but times were booked up to three weeks in advance. I know other people who found this frustrating as well. If you need someone to talk to, you should have that option available.”

Because of this high demand for services, the Counseling Center determined that a more flexible scheduling procedure was necessary in order to allow for more students to be seen in a more timely way. Students might still be seen weekly, but they will not be able to lock in a specific weekly time for the remainder of the semester.

The Center’s staff is optimistic about this alteration to the typical scheduling routine. Director of Counseling and Psychological Services Bob Kazin, Ph.D. said, “We are hopeful that this adjustment will eliminate a waiting list and provide a more equitable distribution of services to all of our students.”

To further improve scheduling matters after the Counseling Center’s record-breaking semester of demand, an additional counselor, Dennis LaLonde, was hired immediately after Thanksgiving.  As of now, LaLonde will continue through the remainder of the 2013-2014 academic year.

The addition of LaLonde has improved the Center beyond reducing scheduling tension. His inclusion to the staff also allowed the Center to offer two co-ed peer discussion groups: one is a group for survivors of sexual assault, and the other is an interpersonal process group that may cover a wide variety of issues or concerns.

The latter group will hold its first meeting this upcoming Tuesday, Feb. 11 at 4 p.m.  With the motto of “Know Thyself and others,” this group is meant to help students better understand how they relate to themselves and others in society. The potential topics of discussion encompass myriad real-life conflicts and experiences, including relationships, managing academic and personal stresses, resolving conflict, personal growth/development and interpersonal communication.

It should be noted that prospective group members are required to attend pre-group screening with the group leader. This screening provides information about the group and helps determine if the group is a “good fit” for each person.  There is also a pre-discussion orientation session.

While LaLonde joined the Counseling Center staff during the middle of the Fall 2013 semester, Desiree Cuevas joined the staff from the semester’s commencement to replace Jan Fisher, who retired from the Center after the Spring 2013 semester.

Kazin believes that these two additions to the staff have greatly improved the Center’s ability to meet the needs of Hamilton students.  He said, “the combination of a fourth counselor, a more flexible scheduling procedure, and the addition of two groups greatly improves the level of service.  We hope that our student population recognizes these improvements and takes advantage of the services we offer.”

The Counseling Center will continue to work towards improving the efficiency and effectiveness of its appointment schedule.

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