UNC Charlotte’s Center for Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) is rolling back the number of individual therapy sessions allotted to students each year in an effort to serve more people. Previously, students were allowed up to 12 sessions per year; now, that number is capped at 4-6.
According to CAPS’ Assistant Director for Outreach Dr. Erica Lennon, the decision was made to address the long wait times caused by increased demand. CAPS experienced a 20% increase in student demand during the fall semester of 2019 compared to the previous year, resulting in wait times of 3.78 days on average between scheduling requests and appointments. Demand has stayed high this semester, even with CAPS operating virtually and many students living far from campus. The counseling center saw 264 students during the first two weeks of this semester compared with 270 during the first two weeks of last year's fall semester. The average wait time, however, has decreased to 2.19 days, likely due to the smaller number of sessions allotted to each student and the stronger emphasis on group therapy.
Lennon attributes the increase in student demand to reduced stigma for mental health resources, a heightened awareness of CAPS’ services, recent tragedies like the campus shooting in April 2019, increased media attention to race-based violence, and the coronavirus pandemic. According to a study by the Center for Disease Control conducted in late June, 25.5% of surveyed 18-24-year-olds reported seriously considering suicide, and 75% reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health symptom.
Despite increases in student demand, the counseling center’s operating budget from the State has remained at $42,000 for the past 15 years, according to CAPS Director Dr. Paula Keeton. The remainder of the budget (salaries) is paid by student fees. Their overall budget decreased between 2019 and 2020 by about $68,000.
Still, CAPS is finding new ways to meet demand without increasing waiting times. They expanded the number of group workshops from 20 to 29 and removed restrictions on how many workshops students can attend. They are also devoting more time to initial consultations and crisis services.
Keeton says group therapy is the treatment of choice for one of the most prevalent concerns among students: anxiety.
Lennon added that CAPS’ approach to individual counseling has always been goal-oriented and brief in nature. When students were able to attend up to 12 appointments, she says, most only utilized 4-6 sessions.
“Our hope is that we have expanded the amount and types of offerings that we can provide students to address their goals related to their well-being and mental health,” said Lennon. “While we recognize the changes in how we are approaching individual counseling, the expectation is that this will allow us to continue to serve all students who initially seek us out by connecting them with the service that will be best suited to attending to their needs and reducing the time they will need to wait in order to be seen.”