The University of Dallas Counseling Center is a therapy service located in upstairs Haggar that provides both in person and online appointments to current students.
According to Dr. Roper, dean of students: “The University as a whole takes our students’ mental health very seriously. As you know, we provide a certain number of free counseling appointments to students as much as we can within the resources we have in terms of time, number of therapists, and their ability to see patients.”
Conflicting messages about the Center’s state of availability arose among the student body over the past semester. Senior English major Arianna Rudorf encountered technological issues with the scheduling process. Despite contacting OSA, she was ultimately unable to get an appointment: “The problem never really got resolved … I know some other people who have decided not to deal with the hassle of figuring things out at UD … It’s been a frustrating experience.”
Jonathan Sumpter, director of the UDCC, responded to this seeming lack of student access to department services: “There have been times where we are overbooked for several weeks,” he said. “It could be attributed to demand or staffing. Inconsistent demand surges create pragmatic challenges in sustaining the supply of a free service.”
But Sumpter was pleased to say that “even with the surge in freshman admissions, we were able to meet the demand.”
Sumpter clarified that “the [fall] semester started slow, but by mid-terms, we were at capacity. Luckily, we could creatively maneuver the scheduling to end the semester without a waitlist.” High demand is not unique to the current semester, and the Center consistently responds to calls for help.
Since the last academic year, the Center gained two new counselors and 40 extra appointment hours, so where has this confusion about the Center’s availability come from?
The most likely answer is the demand surges Sumpter referenced. Academic and social aspects of college life have natural surges in activity that lead to higher percentages of the student body requiring mental health support.
There is a tendency to regard those who attend therapy as constantly requiring it, and those who do not as never needing it. But both students with and without officially diagnosed mental illnesses are encouraged to make use of the Center, and require it more or less at different times. The issue with availability arises when students’ needs converge.
Students may forget to factor in that alongside campus-wide surges in stress can come campus-wide surges in demand for the UDCC. This can make the Center seem more difficult to access than it may be in reality, but also has the potential to leave students in need of counseling with impediments to it.
In response to the University’s stance on providing mental health support, Roper said: “[W]e do not have unlimited resources, and appointments do fill up at times. If a student therefore would like to seek care off campus, we will do what we can to facilitate that. If a student is in immediate distress, we will do everything we can to care for that student.”
But still there remains a tension meriting investigation. Sumpter said, “Over twenty percent of this year’s larger undergrad population were serviced last semester, more than any previous semester.”
When viewed in light of increased clinicians, this statistic is impressive. But higher demand for counseling could be both a positive or a negative reality. If proceeding from greater awareness of the service, then it is an intimation of beneficial communication. If proceeding from higher mental illness levels, then identifying and treating the source of such outbreaks may become vital for the university.
The first step would be to take these surges in mental illness at least as seriously as surges in COVID-19 cases, and provide mental health care with an equal urgency as the vaccine. Sumpter praises his clinicians ability to provide successful treatment. “I take every opportunity to brag about my clinicians’ good work — the UDCC has better than national stats on clinical outcomes.”
Combining university resources with the skill of UDCC clinicians has the potential to both increase successful care and decrease the need for it.