By Holly Renner
This semester, Baylor counseling services faced a high demand for counseling with a short-staffed office.
With seven full-time counselors and one full-time psychiatrist, counseling services does not meet the minimum counselor to student ratio according to the International Association of Counseling Services’ standard.
The association encourages each institution, depending on the size, to maintain one full-time equivalent professional staff member to every 1,500 students. Baylor enrolled 15,364 students this semester, so the standard is 10 full-time counselors. Baylor counseling services is short by two.
Dr. Jim Marsh, Baylor counseling services director, said although they have been behind with staff this semester, they are actively seeking to fill the two full-time positions.
One full-time counselor left in June and the other left in August. They have been in the process of conducting numerous search committees with interviews for potential counselors, but are currently waiting to choose the right candidates for the positions.
Marsh said when he came to Baylor 13 years ago, there were only three psychologists on staff.
“We have done a lot, and I’m really proud of what the university has done and how they have supported us,” Marsh said. “The need for students has increased, and Baylor has had large classes and student population continues to go up.”
Because of the staff shortage, students seeking appointments can face a waiting list.
Marsh said the maximum wait time is typically 12 days, especially in November, at the busiest time of the year.
One student last year, however, was put on a waiting list for nearly a month.
Stephanie, a student whose name has been changed to protect her identity, said she called counseling services on Nov. 15 last year and was put on a waiting list until Dec. 15. Stephanie was told if she wanted an individual counseling session, she would have to call at the very beginning of the semester unless it was an emergency.
Marsh said if a student does not want to be on the waiting list, the on-staff case manager could refer him or her to different services in the counseling center or another counseling center in the Waco community.
There is an after-hours crisis hotline that is open from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. and 24 hours on the weekend to provide students with additional help outside the counseling center.
Normal office hours for the counseling center are Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to noon, then from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the McLane Student Life Center.
Students seeking to book appointments in crisis situations are an exception to the wait time.
Marsh said crises are specifically designated by these categories: suicidal, homicidal, psychosis, assault (sexually or physically), victims of robbery and death of a family member.
Marsh said the staff sets aside two crisis appointments each day, although he said the staff will do what it takes to accommodate crisis appointments exceeding the two set aside.
“In that case, with the wait, if we feel someone is at risk we will make sure they are ok – we will not put them on a wait list,” Marsh said. “We have a system where if we feel like a student is in crisis and we need to follow them, we will follow them and take care of them as long as we need to.”
Stephanie said she had no problem getting seen immediately due to a crisis at the beginning of this month.
“I have a history of cutting and my friend knew this. She told me that she wanted me to go to the counseling center because they would be able to see me immediately,” Stephanie said. “I called at 8 a.m. Wednesday and they saw me Wednesday at 1 p.m.” She said the counselor was very friendly and made it easy to open up about what was going on. “She wouldn’t let me leave without a plan of action,” Stephanie said.
The first seven individual counseling sessions are free of charge with a $10 fee per session thereafter.
There is a limit of 12 individual sessions per semester. Group therapy is offered, which is free and unlimited.
Marsh said many students utilize group therapy, which is just as effective as individual therapy.
Marsh said counseling services has received positive feedback from it so far.
Baylor counseling services also gives students the option to integrate Christian faith into therapy sessions.
“We are all licensed mental health counselors and psychologists who follow standard protocols, but we are very faith-affirming,” Marsh said. “All our staff is consistent with the mission of the university. We have those conversations all the time with students. Some students don’t want to talk about it. Not every student at Baylor is a Christian, so we don’t force anything either. We just really want to see what is important to students.”
Recent Baylor alumna April Leman said she went to counseling her senior year when she found out she was pregnant.
“I met with a lady once a week. She was wonderful,” Leman said. “I don’t think it revolutionized my life or anything, but that’s not what I needed. I just really needed a safe place to talk to someone who could be objective. I would highly recommend the counseling center and feel that Baylor students should really take advantage of the free sessions.”
Hayley Gibson and David McLain contributed to this story.