UT, let’s subsidize rent for therapists

Grace Leake

Two weeks ago, I wrote a column addressing the shortage of resources that UT’s Counseling and Mental Health Center currently faces. Due to high demand, the CMHC is unable to provide unlimited individual counseling sessions and has to refer students off campus for long-term therapy. Although CMHC is working diligently to study their system and make it more effective, problems still exist — students struggle to find the time, transportation and money that off-campus therapy demands.

Incentivizing Austin therapists to move their offices closer to campus may combat this problem. Rents around UT’s campus are very high both for housing and commercial space renting, likely keeping therapists’ offices further off campus. Subsidizing campus area rents to draw in therapists could end up being cheaper and more effective than expanding CMHC itself.

Chemistry freshman Sindhu Venkat, who has felt the hardships of traveling far off campus for therapy, also encouraged this idea. “They only have a limited number of therapists sitting in CMHC right now and maybe they don’t have the infrastructure or payroll for all of those people, but they could at least encourage or subsidize more people to move their offices closer to campus.”

Having to travel off campus affects the whole UT community, not just students. Katie Dillingham, an Austin counselor, noted that many of her clients are faculty or employees who struggle to find transportation to their appointments. “Parking is so difficult there (at UT), and many have to take the bus to work,” Dillingham explained. Without a car at work, they either have to walk to their appointment or pay for a ride service like Lyft. 

Dr. Marla Craig, the associate director for Clinical Services at UT, confirmed that proximity was an important factor for therapists hoping to serve students. She was enthusiastic about the idea of offering rent subsidies to bring therapists close to campus, although she noted that financing might be an issue.

However, offering these rent subsidies might be cheaper than it initially seems. Currently, the median annual salary of a psychologist at CMHC is $66,900, and the median annual salary of a counselor is $57,080. So, rather than fix resources shortages by hiring more counselors and adding to the yearly net cost of CMHC, it might actually be cheaper to put that money into incentivizing long-term partnerships with therapists.

A generous office space of 10,000 square feet near campus — which could fit about forty employees —  would likely be about $200,000 more expensive per year than spaces further from central Austin. If UT subsidized external therapists to work there, it could create ten times more value than if UT used that money to hire therapists directly. 

Not only would this lower costs for UT, but subsidizing rent for external therapists would allow for specialization of labor within the CMHC system. It would be more efficient for CMHC to handle short-term student needs and then have a smooth path to transition students to external therapy if needed. That would minimize the uncertainty and anxiety that many students face when having to look for options after CMHC.

Rebecca Adler, a licensed therapist in the Hyde Park area, noted that, “I had a client who maxed out of their UT appointments and had tried to commit suicide and then was referred to me … something really does need to be done.”

An understaffed CMHC is a large, complex problem, but we know external therapists offer one solution. Partnerships and rent subsidies for these therapists could help these therapists help the UT community, and we need to explore these options. Even if CMHC can’t provide for all of students’ needs on their own, they may have a way to guarantee that those needs are met.

 Leake is a Plan II and business freshman. @grace_leake