Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) will restructure its program next year, hiring more clinical interns to replace independent contractors. The change is a response to increased student demand for counseling services.
Increased Student Demand
Since 2007, student demand for CAPS has increased each year. Four weeks before the end of the 2010-2011 school year, the number of students scheduling appointments with CAPS was well above the total for the entire 2009-2010 school year. “This year, just boom, it really hit us,” said Director of CAPS David Ramirez.
Student demand on CAPS particularly taxes the service because, unlike most college counseling centers, CAPS provides unlimited therapy to all students. Furthermore, CAPS aims to keep its waiting list as short as possible.
CAPS’ full-time staff of clinical interns are currently unable to meet student demand for counseling services. To supplement the clinical interns, CAPS currently hires licensed therapists as independent contractors.
CAPS has secured funding for additional clinical intern positions next year, removing the need for independent contractors.
Dean of Students Liz Braun spearheaded the restructuring. “Through the college budget process I was able to propose some reallocations of funds within the Dean’s area to fund an additional position and add another clinical post-doctoral fellow,” said Braun.
“The basic core staff of permanent clinicians and clinical trainees will increase…to the point where we are unlikely to need independent contractors,” said Ramirez. “They’re not being fired. They’re not being laid off. They’ve always worked on a seasonal basis.” He added that independent contractors may be hired again if it proves necessary.
Ramirez did express concern for students who are currently counseled by independent contractors. “You can’t replace somebody’s personality…To the extent that somebody’s been especially helpful, that represents an absolute loss to the student who felt that way,” he said.
Still, he stressed that the clinical interns will be just as effective. “For students, there might not be an important distinction between independent contractors and clinical interns.”
However, a student who uses CAPS and wished to remain anonymous worried that clinical interns may not be as skilled as the licensed contractors. “We’re lucky that they provide free therapy – it’s a service that not many schools offer and I really appreciate it – but at the same time, I think it’s a quality/quantity issue. It’s a question of clinical experience,” said the student.
Clinical interns are graduate and post-graduate students. They are often younger, and usually stay with CAPS for one or two years. Independent contractors are licensed therapists, several of whom practice privately in the area.
“There’s also a concern that clinical interns may not have experience around sexual assault or survivor issues. One licensed contractor has been holding that down for multiple years,” the student added.
Ramirez noted that this was taken into account in the hiring process. “One of the people we have coming in as an intern for next year, started, many years ago when she was at Haverford, the survivor support group [for survivors of sexual violence].”
Community Support for CAPS
According to Ramirez, this represents the latest step that CAPS has taken toward responding to student demand. “It’s been our longstanding goal to lower barriers to use of mental health services. We do a lot of community outreach, work with the RAs, the SAMs, the staff,” he said. “Maybe we’re seeing a cultural shift, where people feel more comfortable. It seems like it’s become slightly less stigmatized.”
He added, “The college’s commitment to mental health is unwavering and very strong. The Dean, the President’s Office, and the President basically ask me, ‘What do you need?’”
The CAPS budget was supposed to be cut this year, as part of college-wide budget cuts, but the President’s Office allocated extra funds to the service. “There was a budget cut for this year on paper. In reality, no services were cut,” said Ramirez.
“I feel really good that so many students feel comfortable seeking out support from CAPS, and Dr. Ramirez and I were both committed to ensuring that we would be able to continue to fully meet our students’ needs for these services,” said Braun.