With the re-opening of Mary Fisher in the fall semester of 2018, the counseling center will have new, larger facilities on the third floor, with seven offices instead of the current four. The center’s staff will also increase in number. Currently, there are two full-time staff, three part-time staff, and three graduate externs. Next year, there will be three full-time and one part-time staff members, for a slight decrease in active staff hours. The largest increase will be in graduate and doctoral externs, going from three externs to six in the fall.
These new facilities are part of an effort to respond to the high demand for mental health services. According to the 2016-17 Healthy Minds Study, about 49% of Goucher students have a previous diagnosis as of a mental disorder. Students also display a high rate of anxiety and depression, with 37% screening positive for anxiety and 43% for depression.
On-campus counseling services are highly utilized. The center has needed a wait list for the past three semesters, with an average of 10 students being on the list. In 2016-17, the center completed intakes for 354 students and there were 97 crisis walk-in sessions. Of the 2017 graduating class, 45% of graduating seniors used counseling services at some point during their enrollment at Goucher.
Currently, the center’s clinical services are limited by its space. The center has two full-time staff three part-time staff, three graduate externs, and four offices. Because they have expanded, the counseling staff also sometimes holds counseling sessions in their lunchroom in urgent situations, and one of their offices is a re-purposed laundry lounge room. Counseling in this re-purposed office is more challenging because of the room’s distance from the other offices, which makes it difficult to consult with other counselors if necessary.
Monica Neel, Director of Counseling Services, hopes that the new facilities will provide more than enough space for counseling services. “We’re pretty much getting what we need out of it…I think we’ll have ample space…and a capacity to grow,” she said.
The new counseling space in Mary Fisher will also be separate from health services. The current counseling space is attached to the health center, and students are processed in a waiting room that is focused on physical health. With the new facilities, the space will be more centered around mental health. The center will include self-care spaces such as a self-use resource library and a small, low-stimulation meditation room, that students will be able to access without passing through the counseling center.
The new counseling waiting room will also be equipped with electronic medical software. Monica Neel, Director of Counseling Services, hopes this technology will give students a sense of “ownership…for their own care and progress.” The electronic software will also allow the school to more easily and efficiently collect and analyze data regarding students’ mental health.
Case management offices will also be in the new space, for easier communication between counseling staff and case management.
The plans to use this space in Mary Fisher as a new location for the counseling center happened very quickly. Previous plans for the third floor space had included the possibility of putting in dorm rooms, but after the decision to move and preserve the Froleicher building, the beds were no longer necessary.
Conversation about using the space as counseling facilities began this semester, with Vice President Brian Coker, Dean Andrew Wu, and Monica Neel. The first mock-ups of plans were prepared within a month after conversation started. “I think we’ve got great ‘buy in’ everywhere,” said Neel. “It’s not like we have a VP or President who is resistant to talking about mental health.”
The project is part of efforts Goucher is making through its partnership with the JED foundation, a non-profit dedicated to emotional health and suicide prevention for young adults. The JED Foundation provides a framework to ensure that the school meets certain benchmarks of best practices regarding mental health. Prior to Monica Neel being Director of Counseling, there was no director; the counseling center was part of the health center. Because of this, there was no mental health model on campus or frame of reference as to how the counseling center compared nationwide. After Monica Neel learned about the JED Foundation at a conference in Fall 2016, Goucher began its partnership with JED in January 2017.
The new counseling center facilities have been authorized to be completed in the fall, although the funding has not yet been secured. The college is currently looking for donors among alumnae/i.