UVU fails to meet national counseling standard

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Although UVU is acclaimed as one of the largest universities in Utah, the mental health services facility has a below-average student-to-staff ratio according to a 2013 budget report from the student life department.

The National Association of Campus Counseling suggests that a ratio of 1 therapist to every 1,500 students is optimal for students to receive the best quality care. UVU has more than 30,000 students and a ratio of 1 counselor to every 4,357 students.

With less than 10 full-time therapists, UVU mental health services staff are currently treating more than three times the recommended number of clients compared to national guidelines. The current lack of staffing has increased the schedule waiting list to three weeks, meaning students seeking help must wait as long as three weeks to meet with a therapist.

The staffing shortage has impacted more than just the schedule wait times, according to Student Health Services Director Bill Erb.

“Student health services needs to maintain staff-to-student ratios that are in line with national minimums for effective service provision. As our ratios approach the correct levels, we can then start to perform other critical campus functions,” Erb said.  “Outreach is one area that can positively impact the students and faculty at UVU.  Through outreach, the UVU faculty and student body could be made more aware of our services.”

Outreach for student health services has been inhibited due to the already high level of demand for the facility. If more full-time therapists were hired, the level of outreach would significantly improve as the staff would have more time to focus on other critical objectives.

Depression screening, increased suicide prevention outreach, anxiety screening and a greater number of group therapy sessions are all objectives student health services plans to pursue once the staff ratio increases.

“At UVU the student health services practitioners are forced into direct services in 90 percent of their work activities as a result of the shortage in the staff-to-student ratios. The ratios are set so that health centers can effectively meet the needs of students and provide the consistency between sessions that will facilitate the change and growth,” Erb said.

This year, student health services has increased the number of group therapy sessions offered to accommodate students who are seeking immediate support in a consistent, professional and social setting. Unlike traditional therapy appointments, group therapy sessions are free of charge for UVU students and no scheduling is required.

Group therapy sessions are offered Monday-Friday with times ranging from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Groups are led by two qualified therapists, and a women-only group is also available. Students interested in participating in a group therapy session are encouraged to visit student health services located in SC 221 to find a list of available sessions.

“It’s important to be proactive and visit a therapist if you think you may need treatment. Although one-on-one counseling sessions may have a three-week delay, group therapy can be a great way to get feedback from others and try out new behaviors,” Laura Heaphy, UVU mental health therapist, said.

As the staff ratio continues to stay below the demand for service, emergency requests for help must still be accommodated. Each mental health therapist is required to have at least one hour per day dedicated to being prepared for emergency requests.

According to a 2013 report from the student life department, the number of suicide prevention visits has increased from 47 visits in 2012 to 126 visits in 2013. The increased number of students seeking help from student health services for these emergencies may be attributed to the current outreach program known as “Question, Persuade, Refer- Ask a question, save a life.”

The ‘QPR’ program is run by Suicide Awareness and Prevention coordinator J.C. Graham.  Since the program’s debut in 2007, more than 15,000 students, faculty and staff have been educated on the proper steps to take in order to save a life.

Graham encourages teachers who intend to cancel class to instead have her give a lecture on the QPR method. During her lectures, she gives students a booklet containing valuable information and a step-by-step method of how to help someone who may be showing warning signs of depression or suicide.

Students who attend the lectures and receive the booklets are encouraged to be ‘gatekeepers’- or people who are actively willing to look for and find help for those around them who are displaying warning signs of depression or suicide.

Outreach programs such as the QPR method are proven to not only help students in need, but also to give the resources those students need to find help. Not all students and faculty are aware of the services offered by the student health center, but in order to improve outreach, UVU must first meet the staff ratios suggested by the national guidelines.

“As more students come in to SHS to use our services, the wait times increase.  As we look to the future and the growing numbers that are projected to come to UVU, it may make sense to adopt a policy that would increase the therapy staff by one therapist every time the student population increases by 2,500,” Erb said.  “This one action would ensure that no matter how far behind the ratio UVU is currently, we will not continue to fall further behind this ratio.”