Several Texas universities start offering online counseling

Van Nguyen

Several Texas universities have started to offer online therapy programs through their counseling centers. UT is currently monitoring the programs at these schools before implementing it as a part of the Counseling and Mental Health Center.

Baylor, Texas A&M and the University of North Texas added Therapy Assisted Online, one of several online therapy programs, to their counseling centers. According to Texas A&M’s TAO page, the program includes online modules to teach students about topics such as cognitive distortions, mindfulness and relaxation strategies. After the modules, a 5-10 minute video conference session is set up with a counselor from the university.

UNT is currently training staff members for a tentative launch date in October, according to Tamara Grosz, senior director of Counseling and Testing Services at UNT. She said TAO is geared to students who have mild anxiety or depression, but for those who suffer from severe symptoms, in-person sessions are recommended.

“I love the flexibility of it,” Grosz said. “It can be for students strictly seen online but it can also be for students that I’m seeing in my regular one-on-one sessions when I want to reinforce skills or teach them a new skill or track an outcome in-between the sessions. Instead of assigning a workbook, I can assign a TAO assignment.”

In-person sessions are typically 45 minutes, according to Grosz. In-person evaluations will be used to determine which type of therapy is right for the students. 

Grosz said TAO impressed her with the research in their presentations and workshops. The research-based improvements TAO continues to make for their program were also a factor for her when choosing
between different online therapy programs.  

According to Marla Craig, associate director for Clinical Services, UT is currently looking into different online therapy programs including TAO and SilverCloud. She said it’s important to look at the effectiveness of the program at other colleges who have implemented it. According to Craig, effectiveness would be evaluated based on student feedback.

“We’re looking at two options, but if I learn about more I’m going to look at those too,” Craig said. “I want to see how effective it’s been. I don’t want to implement a program just to implement a program, I want to make sure our students are really benefiting from it.”

Darrel Spinks, executive director of the Texas State Examiners of Psychologists, oversees individual psychology practices in Texas. The agency does not have jurisdiction over university counseling centers, but Spinks said he has some concerns with the program.

“We’d want to make sure the patient [is] informed [of] the limitations of the system,” Spinks said. “Confidentiality would be a big thing. You’d want to make sure it’s compliant [with state law].”

Student Government is currently promoting mental health awareness at UT-Austin through the addition of a second Mind Body Lab. According to Binna Kim, vice president of SG, making mental health resources more accessible to students is important.

“Our administration is very focused on mental health and have done a lot of work to make mental health services more accessible to all students,” Kim said in an email. “Although I have yet to have a part in discussions around online therapy programs, the idea seems to align with exactly what our other efforts have been pushing for — making mental health resources as accessible as possible to all students.”