WHEN I first sat down to write this column, I meant to discuss resource availability at Counseling and Psychological Services and de-stigmatizing therapy. University students undergo a tremendous amount of stress this time of year with exams and job searches looming. Having a professional listener can really relieve this stress and perhaps uncover underlying issues. Unfortunately, during peak times, such as the month of April, it can take up to two weeks to get in to see a counselor.
Since I began working on this column, however, some things changed. Gov. Kaine signed a bill into law that requires university psychological services to notify parents of students seen who are deemed potentially dangerous. This response to the shootings at Tech should be treated carefully, and therapists ought to avail themselves often of the loophole that allows them not to notify parents if such notification would cause further harm.
However, combined with problems CAPS already faced, the new policy puts additional pressure on a much-needed service at the University. The University must take care to address concerns students have about wait times, staffing issues and this newly publicized policy to ensure that students feel they are able to seek the therapy they need. All of these factors may threaten students' conception of mental health in general and CAPS in particular.
To be fair, this bill, and the Board of Visitors decision to comply with it, merely codifies a process that has already been in place.
"Under old standards this would typically occur anyway, but often from the student or possibly from a staff on an inpatient unit where a student was hospitalized," according to CAPS Director Dr. Russ Federman. "Now the communication will be occurring through the Office of the Dean of Students."
Federman also stressed that most parents who will be notified under this new policy most likely would have been notified under the old one as well. According to Federman, the policy does represent a "significant lessening of confidentiality standards."
Students who are well-informed and in need of psychological services ought not to be deterred by the change in policy, but those who just read the headlines are likely to assume parents will be notified left and right about visits to CAPS. This is problematic in a culture where therapy is often stigmatized. Getting professional health because of a difficult class or home situation might not be what everyone does, but it certainly shouldn't be considered weird, either.
Currently, only about nine percent of the student body seeks therapy at CAPS, although nearly half of college students experience some symptoms of depression, according to the American Psychiatric Association. Students in Charlottesville certainly have other options outside of CAPS, and some others may seek those options given the new law. CAPS also currently operates on a fairly small level. There are only seven staff members. During normal periods of the semester, students may have to wait up to a week to be seen after scheduling an appointment. During peak times, however, this time increases to two weeks