Are Universities Ignoring Obvious Mental Health Solutions?
Online and smartphone platforms like Talkspace can help students and clients.
Posted Dec 27, 2019
In September 2019, telebehavioral health company Talkspace announced its first-ever partnership with a higher educational institution: Williams College, a highly selective liberal arts college in Williamstown, MA. At around 2,000 enrolled undergraduate students, admitted at a rate of approximately 13 percent, and supported by an endowment of over $2 billion, at first glance, one might regard Williams as an aspirational liberal arts institution. Certainly, the recent announcement of their technically relevant model of student wellness confirms, if not model behavior, at least an innovative mindset that students deserve and are probably coming to expect of the colleges and universities where they choose to learn and stay away from home.
The questions I’m left with are: Why has this taken so long, and where are the others?
When I began interviewing for graduate programs in counseling last year, I reviewed the course offerings and curricula of each of the programs to which I had applied. Across programs at five local colleges and universities—public and private, and one in an online format—I found no published descriptions indicating available training for students in online, virtual, or distance counseling theory, techniques, tools, and practice. None of these five programs required that students be oriented to distance counseling. And perhaps more importantly, the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), the leading accrediting organization overseeing the structure and execution of counseling program curricula, does not require orientation to technical or distance counseling platforms and methods.
In this professional discipline, CACREP accreditation matters, and its value is increasing: Multiple states require that applicants hold a CACREP-accredited degree for the pursuit of state licensure; other states require that applicants be able to demonstrate that their degree meets CACREP standards, even if not accredited; and by 2022, the National Board of Certified Counselors will not offer National Counselor Certification to applicants who are not graduates of CACREP accredited programs.
CACREP defines some of the future of this profession. Undergraduate students, many of whom are strong and active users of technologies, are increasingly finding value in professional counseling. Yet, we’re failing to connect what should be less obvious than if I had sent this message as an alert to your smartphone. The counseling profession, institutions that train counselors, and the institutions responsible for student mental health and wellness must seek to connect their missions and curricula to the tools being used by students.
Last year, while working on campus at a small college in an urban center, I witnessed a completed student suicide attempt. Expertly trained professional counselors moved to support the community with their own limited personal resources. When one in three college freshmen worldwide reports a mental health disorder, colleges and universities must be equipped to handle needs, challenges, events, and realities like these. Ignoring and avoiding platforms that provide access to mental health supports and services does not invalidate their efficiency or value.
Faculty and academic administrators have a responsibility to ensure that programs designed to train counselors and other mental health practitioners thoughtfully integrate relevant technical tools into the range of prescribed approaches. And organizations like CACREP need to make sure that they influence programs to do so. Some of the most valuable resources for the needs that our communities recognize exist are already downloaded and in our back pockets. It’s time to make them available to our students and to train future generations of professionals in their ethical, deliberate use.