Dear Williams Students,

In January 2020, Integrative Wellbeing Services (IWS) will implement a modified scheduling protocol along with expanded student support resources. We’re taking this additional step to help close gaps in equitable access to our services as we explain below.

Because these changes will most immediately impact returning students who choose to continue treatment following the Winter Break, therapists were encouraged to let the students with whom they work know about this new model beginning last week. We’re now notifying all students in an effort to ensure everyone has accurate information about these changes, as inaccuracies can create unwarranted barriers to seeking care.

Rest of the email below the break.

Background:

·       Like colleges and universities across the country, Williams continues to experience record annual growth in requests for mental health services. This year alone, we’re facing greater than a 15% increase in services provided over last year’s record pace. By comparison, the 508 students we’ve seen so far this year is roughly equivalent to the number of students we served throughout the entire 2014-2015 academic year.

·       Williams does not cap the number of sessions that students can use, unlike over 35% of campus counseling centers nationwide.

·       With our growing demand and uncapped service model, more students are in therapy and, on average, they’re staying in therapy for longer periods of time. Whereas the college counseling center national average number of sessions utilized by students is under 5 sessions, for the 2018-19 academic year, Williams students’ average number of sessions scheduled was 13. With four weeks of the semester to go in the current semester, the average number of sessions for students seen in IWS was 7 as of 11/15/19.

·       To meet this growing demand for therapy, we have dramatically expanded our clinical staff and related services in recent years; our current ratio of 150 students per therapist might be the lowest in the country.

·       In addition, we’ve contracted with a number of local therapists to provide additional support during these times of high demand; we’ve increased walk-in opportunities and added self-scheduled hours; and we’ve added Talkspace which over 100 students are currently using. We continue to assess our resources and service levels throughout the year, with an intentional focus on building a wide-reaching portfolio of support options for our community.

We’re encouraged that more and more students are recognizing their need for support and are seeking help from IWS. At the same time, we’re recognizing that an unacceptable outcome of this steady increase in demand for service is an asymmetry in care availability that is based solely on how early in the semester students begin therapy. Students who contact IWS early in the semester receive immediate care. Students who don’t sign up until later in the semester are experiencing extended waiting periods to get a regular slot on a therapist’s calendar.

This type of imbalanced access system, like most unequal systems, disproportionately impacts traditionally marginalized students, who, for many reasons, may seek care later in the semester. This disparity is unacceptable and requires that we make a rare midyear structural change in our scheduling protocol.

The IWS care model is a community practice model, meaning the entire Williams community is our client, not just the students who contact us first. In response to the unprecedented service pressures we’re facing, we have developed a plan to honor this commitment. Specifics of the structural changes are as follows, beginning January 2020:

Ongoing Clients:

 

Students with whom we’re already working this academic year who wish to return to IWS after the Winter break are working directly with their therapists to select the clinical path moving forward from the following two options:

·       Weekly 30 minute sessions

·       Every other week 45 minute sessions

New Clients:

Initial Assessment – Students new to IWS this academic year will complete a scheduled phone or in-person initial assessment with a therapist – this process is unchanged.

Intake – Following the initial assessment, new students will complete the intake process through two consecutive, weekly 45-minute sessions or three consecutive, 30- minute sessions and then work with the therapist to select the clinical path moving forward from the following two options:

·       Weekly 30-minute sessions

·       Every other week 45-minute sessions

In developing this needed systemic change, we prioritized preserving an uncapped, longer-term care model that also provides for similar access to care throughout the semester for all students. We developed a model that allows for students and therapists to collaboratively choose a path forward for weekly (30 minute) or every other week (45 minute) sessions to meet individual needs and clinical indications given the large community of students we serve. Sessions of this frequency and duration are commonly utilized across clinical settings and are, for example, consistently reimbursed by insurance companies as a standard clinical practice.

 

In addition, to support students in making this transition and to streamline student access to care when most needed, we have added and/or are expanding other options for mental health care:

Student Self-Schedule Sessions – We implemented a self-scheduling, supportive session option for students this semester, in October, that has been successfully utilized and will expand further in January.  All therapists will have multiple self-schedule sessions available each week for students in their care to utilize if additional support becomes necessary. These are scheduled by the student as needed a week out or less via the student health portal.

Same-day Crisis Sessions – We’re expanding by 40% the number of same-day crisis sessions each week.  If students experience an urgent need, they can be scheduled on the same day for a session.

After Hours – On Call Therapist – Students continue to have access to after hours and weekend therapist support via the on call system. Students are welcome to call the IWS 413-597-2353 and select option #2 to be connected to an on-call therapist or contact Campus Safety at extension 4444 and ask to be connected to an after-hours on-call therapist.

Talkspace – Students continue to have unlimited access to Talkspace messaging therapy – 12 months per year at no cost. This service, too, is expanding to include a one session/month live video session; our target date is late January to launch this additional free service. We encourage all students to explore Talkspace as an option for additional support – even if they are already utilizing other types of IWS services. Talkspace is available all year long, including during college breaks, summer, while traveling abroad, etc.

Let’s Talk – Throughout the week, IWS offers walk-in sessions at various locations across campus – these require no advance appointment and are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. The updated schedule will be posted in January with times and locations for Winter Study and Spring..

Psychotherapy Groups, Practice Groups and Training Workshops – multiple groups varying in purpose and format are offered throughout the week. The new schedule for January and Spring semesters will be posted in January.

An accurate campus narrative about mental health services is crucial to ensuring all students know about the diverse array of support options available, while an inaccurate narrative can literally block someone from getting the help they need, and that is available here, at a crucial time.  If you or others your know have any questions regarding these changes or available mental health services, please contact IWS at 413-597-2353.

Sincerely,

Wendy Adam, PhD, MSW, LICSW, Director of Integrative Wellbeing Services

Steve Klass, VP for Campus Life

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