Wayne State Counseling and Psychological Services has completed an eight-month long initiative to reduce their waitlist of students seeking mental health services.
Every year, demand for CAPS has risen, Director Jeffrey Kuentzel said. The waitlist for individual counseling was reduced by emphasizing other mental health treatment options: groups, workshops, single-session interventions and helping people connect with community treatment options.
“Then the pandemic hit,” he said.
With WSU closing the Student Center where their office is located, CAPS moved the mental health services they provide online to continue to help students during difficult times, Kuentzel said. Weeks of work went into developing procedures, learning new technology and training counselors in order to make the transition.
While there were a few weeks with “very low demand for remote services, like crickets almost,” Kuentzel said, their demand has begun to pick up.
“We don't have a waiting list right now and we are ready,” he said. “If students want some assistance with their mental health, we are here.”
Individual counseling sessions at CAPS are available for students registered for the spring/summer and fall semester. A student could have an appointment with a counselor in one to two weeks after an initial online consultation.
CAPS now has a collection of online services that they can offer clients, even when they are able to do in-person sessions, Kuentzel said.
“The amount of work that went into it and the fact that it is the wave of the future for mental health anyway, it kind of fast tracked us to get ready for the future a little faster than we wanted to,” he said.
The U.S Department of Veterans Affairs began using telemental health in the 1960s, connecting to different facilities across the country. A 2012 study published by the American Psychiatric Association of VA patients showed telemental health services helped decrease psychiatric hospital admissions by approximately 25%.
“There's lots of research out there that shows that it can be absolutely as good as in person treatment in terms of its effectiveness,” Kuentzel said. “But on the other hand, it can be a little awkward and so that's part of the training that the counselors have received is learning the nuance.”
If a student went home for the summer, CAPS would normally have to find a counselor for them in their hometown, Keuntzel said. Teletherapy provides clients the option to continue their therapy remotely through CAPS.
A 2007 study also indicated that telepsychiatry can produce outcomes just as effective as in-person sessions. Telemental health may be effective for patients living in remote areas without access to mental health professionals.
While CAPS is using Microsoft Teams to video counsel with students, therapy sessions over the phone are also an option, CAPS Counselor Stef Kastely said. Every time she starts a remote session with a client, she asks where they are and makes sure they are in a safe place to talk.
“I’ve had clients who I know when I call, they’re running out to their car to do a session with me just to get out of the house,” she said.
Counselors have transitioned well to using Microsoft Teams to provide teletherapy, Kuentzel said. With in-person counseling, CAPS provided a private space in their office where counselors could meet with their clients.
“Now we can't do that,” he said. “We have to work out with each client a way to make sure that no one's overhearing, no one's in the background during a session, that it's private (and) it's not likely to get interrupted by someone walking into the room.”
COVID-19 restrictions present a challenge for people who do not have a safe space to talk to a therapist in private, Kastely said, which was the case for some of her previous clients.
“Some of my students who I saw before all this happened, their family (and) friends didn’t know they were seeing a counselor,” she said. “It (CAPS) was a safe place for them, but with everything going remote they don’t have a safe place to do counseling sessions with me.”
The Mental Health and Wellness Clinic in the College of Education is also providing free counseling services to not only WSU students, but all community members. Sessions are offered over the phone, FaceTime or Zoom.
“Everything that’s been going on certainly is affecting everybody’s mental health,” Kastely said. “Unfortunately, some people can’t afford care so it’s a free option for people out there.”
The MHaWC is a graduate student training clinic with the mission of providing services to help improve the mental health and well well-being of people throughout Michigan, according to their website.
Kastely said CAPS is also offering grief workshops in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that grief doesn’t only apply to those who’ve experienced a death in their personal life.
“When we talk about grief it’s also just not the death of somebody,” she said. “We can grieve just how everything’s changed, grieving relationship change, work change.”
Spring and summer are a great time for students who might be unsure about counseling to “give it a test drive,” Kastely said.
“We’re normally not as busy as fall or winter semester. I can say right now there’s probably no more than a week wait time for someone to get scheduled up for therapy with CAPS,” she said.
CAPS services in the fall will most likely be completely or partially remote, Kuentzel said.
“It's definitely not the same, but it is just as effective and that's why we're very comfortable with offering it to Wayne State students,” he said.
Jack Filbrandt is the editor-in-chief at The South End. He can be reached at editorinchiefTSE@gmail.com.
Cover photo provided by CAPS.