Program cuts down counselling wait times with part-time interns

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Ryerson is expanding its resources to help deal with mental health on campus.

Nine part-time interns have been taken on by the Centre for Student Development and Counselling in response to the growing demand for counselling services.

“We really struggled to keep up with that demand, and have tried a number of different ways to address (it),” said Dr. Su-Ting Teo, Ryerson’s director of student health and wellness. “The number of wait times was very concerning and alarming for lots of people, and for us as well. It’s never been so high.”

The CSDC’s pilot project, in collaboration with the Student Life department, incorporates intern counsellors into specific faculties to help meet demands.

Psychology and social work graduate students from across the city are interning in different departments within Ryerson. The Faculty of Communication and Design, the athletics department, the graduate studies department and campus housing are just a few that have new designated counsellors.

The partnerships help cater to the needs of department-specific student populations.

Maria Paula Chaparro, a PhD candidate in clinical psychology at the University of Toronto, is one of the new interns on campus. She is working at the main office of the CSDC. She feels that it is essential for there to be additional staff.

“Every year, there are more and more students seeking mental support. In terms of demand, it’s essential to have more counsellors,” said Chaparro. “The student counselling centre (benefits from) having more staff just so that students don’t have to wait on the waiting list forever.”

The head of the athletics department, Ivan Joseph, supports the project and hopes athletes will use the resources if they deem it necessary.

“What it’s done for us is that it’s allowed us to feel that people can get help in an anonymous way, and for athletes to get professional help,” said Joseph.

These changes were made possible by an increase in funding over the past three years. According to Teo, the CSDC’s 2014-15 budget was raised to $1.3 million, from $1.2 million the year before. This does not include the funds contributed by faculties for embedded counsellor salaries.

Open group counselling is another CSDC alternative established this year to reduce wait times. The open therapy groups, which can include up to 10 students, act as an introductory counselling session aimed at helping students to better manage their stress, anxiety and other issues.

“It’s actually more helpful for students to be in a group than one-on-one,” said Teo. “There’s this normalizing that helps by connecting students with the same issues.”

Because the school year is still young, it may be too early to tell if these measures will maintain low wait times in the long term.

Initial counselling sessions first assess the student’s needs and if the student is in crisis. Then, depending on the seriousness of the student’s case, wait times for the following appointment can vary.

Sara Thompson, clinical director of the CSDC, said that at the moment, if a student is in crisis, wait times will be around two weeks or less in some cases. For students with less serious cases who request individual therapy, wait times are around two to three months. Thompson hopes that wait times will not reach the record high of last year — when they ranged from six months to a year.

“It’s a new year, we’ve done all these changes and preparations and hope that it won’t happen that way again,” said Teo.

This article originally appeared in print on Wednesday, October 22, 2014.

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