This year, Vassar College Counseling Service (VCCS) welcomed three new counselors: permanent Staff Therapists Constanca Vescio, Jeremy Eggleston and 2016-2017 Post-doctoral Fellow Stephanie Bowlin.
According to the Director of Psychological Services Wendy Freedman, “Constanca brings specialization in working with interpersonal dynamics, sexual assault, domestic violence and multicultural concerns. Jeremy’s professional interests include LGBTQIA related concerns, identity formation, substance use and spirituality. Stephanie is completing her post-doctoral fellowship with us this year to acquire her hours towards licensure. Her areas of interest include disordered eating and impulse control struggles, trauma, relational distress and group work.”
Freedman noted that this is the largest staff they have had in her 14 years at Vassar—a center record.
Counseling Services Post-Doctoral Fellow Stephanie Bowlin acknowledged that she came to Vassar because of the staff and students.
“The Counseling Center staff is by far the most talented group of therapists I have worked with and welcomes authentic communication, diverse perspectives, difficult conversations and group-based problem solving,” said Bowlin.
Bowlin is transitioning from working as an intern at Florida State University, which has a population of 41,473.
“The student composition and personality are vastly different as well as the counseling center itself,” she recounted. Bowlin felt that in a small college like Vassar, offices matter.
Bowlin said of her job responsibilities, “Being a staff therapist, I work with students, lead group therapy sessions, present and collaborate with campus partners regarding outreach services and regularly consult with staff.”
Bowlin observed that there is a national trend that reports students are entering colleges with more mental health needs than ever before. She cited an example statistic from the Spring 2014 National College Health Assessment, “33 percent of students surveyed reported feeling so depressed within the previous 12 months that it was difficult to function. Almost 55 percent reported feeling overwhelming anxiety, while 87 percent reported feeling overwhelmed by their responsibilities. Almost nine percent seriously considered suicide over the past year.”
Freedman agreed, “The increased staffing could not have occurred at a better time given that we have seen a 21 percent increase in new students seeking services and a 64 percent increase in students needing crisis support this year compared to last year.”
How does new staffing translate into better care for our students? Freedman explained, “Immediate improvements include a shorter wait time for an initial appointment (now an average of six days), more consistent appointments and more effective crisis management with our higher risk students. ”
New initiatives are also implemented around student health.
“With a more robust staff, we were also able to initiate a biofeedback stress management program and a transcare program to provide support for our trans and genderqueer students seeking letters of support for hormones and surgery,” wrote Freedman.
However, Bowlin stated that it is still a national trend for counseling services to be understaffed.
“It is unfeasible for universities and colleges to hire enough therapists that can provide weekly therapy options for all students at counseling centers.”
She commented, “I definitely do not think that we are over-staffed. Some therapists are finding themselves booked up and in need of finding students therapists off-campus in order to meet their needs for weekly therapy.”
She humorously confided, “I also know that Metcalf turned spare closets into counseling offices and our electrical outlets dislike the number of therapists in the building. For example, we can’t make coffee and turn on the microwave at the same time and therefore our communication as a group of therapists is on-point in order to handle such hurdles.”
Bowlin suggested that group therapy options should be taken advantage of in order to meet students’ needs and provide weekly services.
She reasoned that group therapy can be even more advantageous than individual therapy for some students, explaining, “We are social creatures who historically traveled in packs where we have diverse roles and perspectives, learning by witnessing others share their stories is something one therapist cannot provide.”
She continued, “In addition, structured skills-based group therapy can be helpful for students looking to learn coping strategies and develop emotional intelligence. Each therapist has a role as a liaison with different organizations or campus departments and we work as a team to get students ideas and needs communicated.”
Freedman responded that in order to be more accessible and welcoming to all students, VCCS is shifting to a more preventative orientation by participating in wellness and resiliency building initiatives in partnership with offices across campus.
“We are committed to partnering with offices that serve students from traditionally marginalized groups who may not be as comfortable accessing mental health support.”
Bowlin seconded, “[Furthermore,] communication between the hospital and the college are critical if a student is hospitalized for mental health concerns. I have enjoyed partnering with Spiritual Life to provide daily meditation for students at the library at 3 p.m. in the quiet room.”
Both Freedman and Bowlin expressed that they are grateful to the College for supporting the work of the Counseling Service and the mental health of our community.
Bowlin concluded, “It is amazing that our new Dean of Students, Adriana diBartolo, has worked hard to create the space for administrators to gather and discuss our student’s needs in order to find the best solution.”