Educational institutions must meet the health care needs of their students, and the availability of wellness services, like counseling, is instrumental in providing this holistic care. Because college students are able to take their health into their own hands without needing parents as middlemen facilitating health care, students take advantage of the services available in large numbers. This semester, colleges across the country, such as Colorado State University, have introduced online counseling programs to meet the high student demand of wellness services on campuses. These online tools seek to address student concerns on an easily accessible and readily available platform. Though the integration of technology and wellness services seems like natural progression as digital platforms become more and more a part of our daily lives, the efficacy of such programs is difficult to determine.
It is crucial to address the demand for student counseling services. However, USC should look to evaluate flaws in its current program and make changes to improve its efficacy before implementing online counseling, which would be an entirely new program. If online counseling is adopted, these services should not be considered replacements for in-person counseling, but rather supplementary when needed.
Because online counseling services are a recent development, there is little research proving the impact of such programs. While they have been proven beneficial for common anxiety, there is concern when these issues are consulted for more serious issues, like depression and suicidal thoughts. An issue with online programs is their inability to intervene in a pressing crisis situation. Because students can often remain completely anonymous when seeking online services, this prevent scounselors from providing the immediate assistance a situation might require.
Despite the potential drawbacks of online counseling services, it does provide an outlet for students who do not feel comfortable meeting with a counselor for help in person or talking on the phone. It caters to this niche of people who have not sought help and feel more comfortable using this digital platform.
So, while meeting student demand for wellness programs is imperative, introducing online counseling services is not a perfect solution to this problem. Instead, USC should look to address complaints about existing wellness programs and improve these before integrating a new program.
One issue with the current wellness programs on campus is its failure to meet immediate need for student services. When scheduling appointments, the online portal provides the phone number of a 24/7 on-call counselor for immediate assistance in a crisis situation. However, counselors are not as easily accessible otherwise.
It is not an option to directly schedule a individual counseling appointment. First, students must schedule a consultation with a counselor, which is a brief phone conversation in which the counselor evaluates a student’s situation and provides recommendations for next steps. A huge problem in scheduling these appointments is that times are limited and students must schedule weeks in advance for just this phone call, meaning that further steps in addressing student needs will not be taken for even longer than that.
Even after completing a phone consultation, students are not guaranteed an individual counseling appointment. Rather, they could simply be referred to a group therapy session or directed to another USC office for services. USC should make individual therapy more available to students, whether by expanding staff or daily operation hours or locations where wellness services are available. USC should not add new programs before addressing flaws in the current ones. There is no guarantee that the online services will be effective if the existing resources are not adequately meeting student needs.
Additionally, when considering implementation of an online program, USC should be careful to hire the same quality professional staff that work in the wellness center. Increasing demand should not equate a decrease in quality of services.
In theory, the existing wellness programs at USC are doing their jobs. They are comprehensive options for students seeking help with a wide range of problems. To keep pace with the growing emphasis and concern for student mental and emotional health, USC should imcrease the access students have to these resources. While an online counseling program may prove beneficial in the future, it should never be considered as a replacement for other services the wellness center provides.