Why do students have to wait to get into the Counseling Center?
North Dakota State University’s Counseling Center has previously had a waiting list for students to access resources. During certain times of the year, and after the pandemic, more students have been utilizing the Counseling Center. The Counseling Center is a free mental health resource on campus for students to utilize throughout the year.
The Counseling Center is relocating to the Stop and Go Center while their location in Ceres Hall will be renovated. These renovations will take approximately one year to complete, as they will first move out on May 16, 2022 and plan to return in May of 2023.
Director of the Counseling Center Bill Burns said the space is due for an update. “Every office will have a window,” said Burns. The renovations will also include updating the break rooms and new group rooms. They will also be adding a relaxation room, which will include message chairs. Burns also expects to gain an office or two.
During the NDSU student body president elections, all three candidates had mental health resources as part of their platform. They mentioned increasing funding to the Counseling Center and adding mental health days for students.
The funding for the Counseling Center is primarily funded by the State Legislature. North Dakota University Systems appropriated money to specifically be used towards student mental health. Katie Fitzsimmons is the director of student affairs for the North Dakota University Systems which encompasses 11 North Dakota campuses.
During the last legislative session in 2021, appropriated approximately $280,000 towards the student mental health resources. This money goes into behavior health, sexual assault training, behavior intervention teams, counseling center resources or other resources that encompass student mental health. Each of the 11 campuses are given funds based on the population of that campus. “Not all campuses are going to be able to use this funding in the same way,” said Fitzsimmons.
NDUS also provides fixed resources that are available to every school system. One of these resources is First Link. First Link is a service which provides services to anyone for support, referrals to resources and crisis intervention. NDUS started focusing on what we can provide that helps everyone.
Most of the Counseling Center funding that comes from the state goes towards the salaries of the counselors and employees. The counseling center includes eight full-time employees along with around 10-12 graduate school students who work and train as counselors.
In the 2015 legislative session they started to make larger strides for mental health services following the Schulte Report as a road map. Since this session, the state has increased funding for mental health resources in higher education.
NDSU also receives some funding from the Student Government along with various resources. “The last couple years, student government has helped out with some funding,” said Burns. Student government has appropriated funds to create the relaxation room.
At times throughout the year, the Counseling Center gets overbooked and students who are seeking help are put on a waiting list until space is available. “We are staffed fine for two-thirds of the year,” said Burns. “If it got too busy, then most students would have to be on the waiting list for two or three weeks at the most; however, if there is somebody in crisis, they get in right away,” said Burns.
Students who came into the Counseling Center are all given an assessment to determine the severity of their mental health. “Everybody who wants to be seen gets an initial assessment,” said Burns, “then we decided what to do with them.”
When the Counseling Center is full, they will send students to the Stop and Go Center if they choose. “Their students are just not as advanced, so we send the easier ones up there,” said Burns. They are able to be seen more quickly rather than waiting for an opening at the Counseling Center.
Many students also have trouble getting into the Counseling Center because of conflicting schedules throughout the year. The Counseling Center will get students who are only available for a couple of hours a week which can limit the amount of help they can see a professional, especially from certain counselors.
Abigail Faulkner is a human development and family science, and social work major who has received services at the Counseling Center for anxiety. “I think ultimately they put me with a counselor that was available for that time block, not the counselor that would be the best fit for me,” she said.
Faulkner did not feel like her specific needs were being addressed at the NDSU Counseling Center and eventually found help through a different resource. “Religion is a very big part of my life and I don’t feel that influenced my therapist’s practice at all,” she said. “It was very much a general practice that is supposed to apply to a general amount of people, but not to specific students.”
Other students have had great experiences at the Counseling Center, it is all about finding the right fit for each student. Faulkner stated that students should be able to advocate for themselves if the counselor isn’t the right fit for them.
Faulkner also said she felt as though they were saying “You don’t have enough problems for us to do something about that,” said Faulkner, “I think that they need more counselors, especially experienced counselors.”
Since the start of the pandemic, the demand for counselors has risen significantly. This is contributing to a shortage of counselors in the region and across the nation. “If you go into the community there is a waiting list to get into anywhere,” said Burns.
North Dakota University Systems could be allowed more funding, but the shortage of counselors would still be an issue, particularly with the smaller universities in the state. Some universities seek a counselor for their campus, “but some campuses couldn’t find anyone to contract,” said Fitzsimmons. “We know what it is that we need, it’s just sometimes those don’t exist,” she said.
“We have equity and access issues across the state,” said Fitzsimmons.
“College and universities our size see somewhere between 8-10% of the student body in a given year and we usually fall right into that, this year we are going to get closer to the 10%,” said Burns.
The Counseling Center is also open during the summer months to students to use. “We are here all the time,” said Burns.
“All of these people that are providing direct services to students, they are some of the most dedicated professionals you are going to find anywhere,” said Fitzsimmons, “they just want students to reach out when they need help.”