It’s 9 a.m. on a Monday morning, and I’m sitting in the rain so my roommate won’t overhear my counseling session. When the counselor asks me about my goals for therapy, I have to scan the area to make sure no one’s listening.
Many UT students share my privacy concerns, which makes virtual counseling quite uncomfortable. The Counseling and Mental Health Center should take note of these concerns and provide in-person sessions next semester. While telehealth is a valuable resource and shouldn’t be completely removed, students who need in-person care should be allowed to request it.
One student, who asked to remain anonymous, is concerned about privacy in doing their virtual therapy from their apartment.
“The walls in (my) apartment are pretty thin,” the student said. “My roommate is on the other side of the wall. It’s not that she can hear every word I'm saying, but there’s that thought in the back of my head: ‘I’m saying some personal stuff right now. I don't really want anyone to know this.’”
The CMHC currently offers space on campus for students to reserve for virtual sessions. While this student was “vaguely aware” that reserving office space was an option, they didn’t know how to go about doing so. Other students I talked to didn’t even know they could reserve spaces for their virtual sessions.
I’m glad that CMHC has this reservation measure in place, but if students don’t have the information to use it, it amounts to nothing.
“We've kind of tried to market it in all these different places,” Marla Craig, senior associate director for clinical services at the CMHC, said. “But it makes sense to me students wouldn't know. Some (students) don't even know about the counseling center. And they've been (at UT) for three or four years.”
Craig also acknowledged the benefit of in-person counseling.
“In counseling, it's really important to be able to see gestures and body language,” Craig said. “All of that is part of therapy.”
Business sophomore Walter Naranjo said in-person counseling would help students by changing their environment so they wouldn’t have to feel as alone in conducting their session.
“Counseling is a safe space for many students,” Naranjo said. “Everybody has their own counseling needs, and (in-person counseling) is something that the university should work on providing, no matter what restrictions (may be needed).”
I don't believe virtual sessions should be canceled entirely. These are a valuable resource for students who aren’t based in Austin or those who have reservations about in-person counseling due to the pandemic. However, in-person counseling should be an option for those who need it.
If UT can test thousands of Big Ticket holders for sporting events, they should be able to test both counselors and patients prior to their therapy appointments, should they opt for in-person counseling. We can utilize personal protective equipment like masks, gloves and face shields to further mitigate COVID-19 spread.
Counseling is emotionally taxing. Waking up at 8 a.m. to relay your deepest traumas and concerns to a screen lessens the human connection that makes counseling so valuable.
Next semester, I hope that the students who need the structure and added support of in-person counseling will be able to schedule those appointments. For students like me who are new to counseling, this would make the process even more rewarding.
Roland is a radio-television-film freshman from Houston, TX.