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'We’ve definitely noticed an understaffing need': Goddard counseling wait times continue to frustrate students

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Goddard Health Center (copy)

OU's Goddard Health Center pictured on Sept. 5.

Despite the addition of staff members, long counseling session wait times still affect some patients at the Goddard Counseling Center.

Goddard hired two staff psychologists before the start of the school year and is working to hire a case manager to transition patients from off-campus in-patient care to counseling at the university, staff psychologist Brittany Stewart said. The case manager will take on a small caseload of patients as well.

Stewart has been employed at Goddard since her internship there in 2015, and said traffic at the counseling center often increases at the beginning of the school year. Goddard employees accommodate for the back-to-school rush of patients by hiring new staff and allowing psychology students to see patients as part of their internships, Stewart said. 

Stewart said the frequency of new hires varies, and the new positions are funded by student activity fees. 

“We’ve definitely noticed an understaffing need — and then have been supported by the student body and been supported by the administration to bring in additional employees, additional psychologists, to help meet some of that need,” Stewart said. 

Long wait times at Goddard are not new, as a 2017 story by The Daily found limited staff and tight budgets meant significant wait times for students seeking mental health care.

Human relations junior Noah Nichols started seeing a Goddard therapist a week before school started this year, when he felt his mental health was particularly turbulent. 

His therapist explained that she wanted to try meeting once a week, and Nichols agreed. Hours later, he received a call from the therapist saying that according to university policy, they could only meet — at the most frequent — every three weeks. 

This was not the only time Nichols had had to wait for on-campus counseling. 

His freshman year in 2017, Nichols reported feeling alone and tried to sign up for a counseling appointment on campus, but Goddard staff told him a time slot would not be available until October. To avoid the wait, Nichols opted to return to his hometown and visit a primary-care physician there instead. 

But in the summer between his sophomore and junior year, Nichols transitioned back to campus behavioral therapy. He was then assigned a university-based therapist and faced session limits. 

The normal therapy limit for OU students is 16 sessions per school year, but Goddard staff is willing to make exceptions to the rule if necessary, Stewart said. In addition, urgent care appointments are available if a student feels he or she needs to be seen before his or her next scheduled appointment. 

Nichols said he found Goddard’s therapy effective because a lot of the therapists were younger and easy to connect with.

“That’s why it was so frustrating, because (the therapy sessions) were very, very helpful, and I felt like the only way they could be more helpful was increased frequency,” Nichols said. 

Linguistics sophomore Robert Lamb did not have much of an issue with frequency of visits, as he only required Goddard’s counseling services twice in the middle of the spring semester, but said it was a fairly efficient process to get his appointments scheduled.

“It might take you a while (to get it scheduled)," Lamb said. "It also depends on the time of year, but once you’re in (the Goddard system), you’re in there, and it’s easy to get things done.”

Lamb’s only complaint with the Goddard appointment system was the time it took to get the intake survey and intake appointment completed due to lengthy questioning, but he “definitely” found the therapy helpful.

Stewart said nationwide university counseling center utilization rates have increased roughly 30 to 40 percent over the last few years, citing a report from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health. 

“I think this generation of students is doing a phenomenal job of reducing the stigma around mental illness and around mental health, and they’re seeking services at rates that are much higher than they’ve ever been before,” Stewart said. “That is why we see some of that congestion sometimes and some of those sessions being pushed out a little bit."

*Editor's note: Portions of this story were retracted at the request of a source.

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