Students shouldn’t have to explain themselves before getting help

Isabelle Costello

A particularly difficult transition to rigorous online classes in the midst of a pandemic took its toll on me this semester. After midterms, I decided to turn to UT’s Counseling and Mental Health Center.

I had never done something like this before, so admitting I needed to talk to someone was uncomfortable new territory. I was ready to make my appointment and be done with it, but I realized that I would first have to take part in an assessment call — 15 minutes of explaining my situation, the situation that I already didn’t quite understand myself, to someone who wouldn’t be my long-term counselor. 

For most students, admitting you need help is half the battle. Having to justify that to a stranger in 15 minutes does little to ease the process. 

Students seeking help from CMHC should be able to schedule appointments themselves and spend their first session assessing their needs with their counselor, rather than placing the pressure on an initial assessment call.

To its credit, much of the CMHC counseling process is similar to that of a professional counselling office. Students have a designated amount of sessions to meet with a University-provided counselor and can cover a variety of topics, including mental health disorders, substance misuse, eating habits and sexual wellness. 

“I had always planned on seeing a professional, and UT was my invitation when I found out it wouldn’t cost me,” government freshman Zoe Alvarez said. “Start asking yourself what goals and intentions you have for seeking counseling before you begin so you don’t waste your sessions.”

Though the quality of care at CMHC mimics that of an outside counseling clinic, the process of integrating students into the program strays from the process of general counseling. Typically, a  patient would make their own full length appointment with the long-term doctor and take the entire first session to discuss their situation and symptoms. 

CMHC’s assessment phone call system puts students in a difficult position to coherently explain themselves before even stepping into a session. It can also set them up for transitional issues later on, should they seek therapy after free CMHC appointments run out and they turn to an outside counseling clinic where things are done differently.

Admitting struggle regarding one’s mental health is never an easy topic, and though the conversations are difficult, I’ve spoken to several students that echo my sentiments. The call is understandably intimidating. 

Marla Craig, senior associate director for clinical services, explained that since many students want to schedule their counseling sessions immediately, the assessment calls allow students to talk to someone without having to wait. The CMHC isn’t currently able to get students in right away for an initial session

“I believe our Brief Assessment Counselors can start to build that relationship without students having to wait,” Craig said. “I don’t want students waiting two weeks to talk to a counselor.”

If the core issue at hand is not being able to get students in right away, then this is an issue that needs to fall on the CMHC administration. Instead, increasing the number of trained counselors on staff and dedicating more attention to incoming appointment requests would allow the center to accommodate more appointments, without placing the burden on students.

CMHC needs to do away with its brief assessment call and allow patients to take a full session to assess their situation. Students don’t need one more barrier between them and help. Simply having the courage to ask for it should be enough. 

Costello is a neuroscience freshman from Boerne, TX.