In the past several weeks, Monsour Counseling Center has reduced its wait time for appointments from five weeks to two weeks thanks to contracts with local therapists, the addition of a 24-hour on-call crisis counselor and the hiring of an additional therapist in early November.
In addition, the presidents of the Claremont Colleges announced in an email on Dec. 3 that they had authorized the hiring of another therapist. Although the search process for the new counselor will begin immediately, Pomona College President David Oxtoby wrote in an email to TSL that he expects the counselor will not begin work until next semester at the earliest.
“This new resource will increase our capacity to see students on a more timely basis,” the presidents wrote in their email. “In addition, we are exploring formal partnerships with local therapists, facilitated through Monsour, to further expand our capacity to deliver counseling and mental health services during specific times of anticipated high use of Monsour. Finally, we are contracting with a 24 hour on-call service to augment our existing crisis therapist staff. We believe that these immediate investments in our counseling and mental health services will have a meaningful positive impact on the service level at Monsour.”
When Monsour's wait time reached its peak of five weeks in late October, many students expressed hesitation to contact Monsour for help. In a survey of over 160 students conducted by TSL, students from all five colleges expressed frustration with the long wait times.
Surveyed students also expressed varying levels of satisfaction with the care they had received from Monsour. While some survey respondents said that they found Monsour's therapists impersonal or insensitive, others said that their therapists had helped them deal with issues ranging from sexual assault to stress management.
“The quality of care was definitely low,” Becca Schell SC '16 wrote in an email to TSL. “My psychiatrist would ask me questions like he was going down a list, no emotion in his voice and seemingly no empathy. I tried individual counseling as well, and I found that to be a waste of time since the therapist seemed to just repeat back to me what I had said to her.”
Erin Sullivan PZ '19 described her experience at Monsour as unexceptional.
“They just listen, really, and maybe give you a few self-care things,” Sullivan said. “I haven't received much real psychological help there, maybe just an ear.”
Sullivan said, however, that the process of contacting a crisis counselor, who is available to help with immediate crises such as a panic attack, was quick and straightforward.
In addition to the assignment of a new counselor at Monsour, which was the first step taken to reduce the wait time, schools are taking initiative to expand the breadth of resources available to students.
Scripps College and Pomona are both negotiating contracts with therapists and psychologists in the surrounding community. These resources will be available to students who are seeking specialized care, are unsatisfied with the counseling they have received at Monsour, or have exhausted Monsour's eight-session limit.
There are also multiple resources available to students besides Monsour. The EmPOWER Center, which is available to all 5C students, is collaborating with Project Sister to offer confidential counseling services to victims of sexual assault or relationship abuse. Pitzer Advocates for Survivors of Sexual Assault, a student-run organization, runs a “warm-line” and offers a bridge between students and the administration for those who want to report sexual abuse.
Monsour has experienced a large increase in student demand for counseling appointments this semester, with wait times peaking at five weeks.
“Overall across the country there's been an increased usage of counseling services and an increased need for counseling services,” Pomona Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum said. “It could be due to de-stigmatization, and it could be due to a different set of needs and issues present on college campuses in the last five years.”
74.9 percent of respondents to the TSL survey said that their academic workloads had negatively impacted their mental health this semester, and 68.3 percent said that social stresses had also harmed their mental health. In addition, 64.6 percent of respondents said that feelings of isolation or loneliness had impacted them.
Feldblum also noted that the age group of most college students, 18-24, is the “age of onset” for many mental health issues.