Some of the most prevalent rumors around campus and amongst the student body regard the Counseling Center. It’s lauded by the University of Maine as a great resource for students and is referenced in many emails sent out to the student body as a place to go if you need to talk to someone about mental health, world events, your personal life or any other topic you might not feel comfortable telling anyone else.
Multiple UMaine students have expressed difficulty when seeking help from the Counseling Center. Critiques about the Counseling Center are common knowledge among the student body even if the entire student body hasn’t used their services. While it can be hard to determine how true these particular complaints are, the fact that the previous complaints are so widespread can impact students’ views on the Counseling Center. In fact, this is probably one of the biggest reasons many students may decide not to go to the Counseling Center, no matter how true some of these claims are.
A common complaint is that there’s too long of a wait to get seen by a Counseling Center member. On their website, it shows that three interns, one extern, three licensed social workers and two psychologists work there. While interns are allowed to see patients, it’s not a permanent position, which means once the internship ends after a year, the intern will leave and all the patients under their care will no longer be able to see them as their therapist. This means that less than 10 people are supposed to be available for an entire campus to utilize for mental health services.
“Social workers contribute to the human services field by providing holistic solutions to the social, behavioral, economic or health problems faced by their clients. Whereas, psychologists focus their efforts specifically on helping their patients address potentially damaging mental health issues,” a University of Nevada, Reno website says.
Many students could probably benefit from meeting with a psychologist, but despite this UMaine has fewer psychologists than social workers, as shown on the UMaine Counseling Center website. There’s close to 12,000 students enrolled at UMaine which means there’s approximately 2,400 students per counselor if every student wants to see one. The Counseling Center is open seven and half hours every weekday and closed on the weekends.
It’s not feasible with the current counselors to students ratio to get an appointment in a timely manner. In a world where no minute is unaccounted for, a counselor could see 15 students a day in a 30-minute conversation. Across five counselors, at the maximum 75 students could be seen a day. In order to be fair to fellow students, it wouldn’t be possible to get a repeat appointment with a counselor for over three weeks.
While this is one of the worst possible situations, it paints a fairly grim picture for students if they want to realistically see a counselor, especially if they don’t have a preset appointment and need to see someone quickly.
In addition to this, the Counseling Center is only open during typical office hours, 8 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., which is when a lot of students have class and work. This can make it harder for some students to be seen, especially if they have a busy schedule. They also provide phone services, but these are also only available during the same time periods.
Another claim many students make is they’re not very diverse, or at least not as diverse as the student body is. This can be a big turnoff for some students who want a counselor who can relate to their experiences.
According to the Vice President of Student Leadership, Michael Delorge, the student government is looking into some of these issues since it is a topic that’s frequently discussed among students. They haven’t declared a course of action, but it is a problem they’re working on because it is such a common discussion point among students.
According to Delorge, care also doesn’t continue over the summer. This can be harmful for students who rely on their counselor. Not having access to these resources for several months every year isn’t acceptable.
Part of this may be because UMaine doesn’t seem to be as concerned about this problem as a lot of students would like them to be. According to the Vice President for Student Life and Inclusive Excellence and Dean of Students at the University of Maine, Robert Dana, more students are using the Counseling Center. But from talk around campus, the general consensus on the Counseling Center hasn’t improved.
A lot of the issues surrounding the Counseling Center are probably due to staffing issues and an inability to hire a lot of counselors in a state such as Maine when there are other universities who would probably be able to pay better than UMaine does.
Unfortunately, this may not be something UMaine may be able to do as much about. However, they should still take students’ concerns seriously. If they are constantly referring students to the Counseling Center but many students are still complaining about their services, perhaps these claims should be looked into.
Even though COVID-19 isn’t as prevalent as it has been in the past few years, many students may still be struggling with COVID-19 related issues. This means that more students may be needing mental health services than were previously needed. UMaine seems to acknowledge some of this because of how often they advertise the Counseling Center as a resource for students. They don’t seem to be acknowledging the problems that students are having though.
While there are concerns that UMaine should address, the Counseling Center still has some good resources on their website. It doesn’t take the place of talking to a real person who can help you directly through what you’re going through, but the resources can still help students who may need help but are having trouble getting in to see a counselor or those who don’t want to try to get in because of the rumors surrounding the Counseling Center.
It’s possible that the concerns surrounding the Counseling Center are overblown compared to what is actually true, but rumors can be dangerous. If students don’t think it’s worth trying to see a counselor because of the rumors, then there’s a problem. Currently, it’s hard to get access to a counselor, and you may not be given the attention you deserve and may not feel as welcome as you should be because of the ratio of counselors to students. UMaine needs to address some of these issues if they can’t spend the money to hire more counselors.