Mental health counselling “pilot” under scrutiny

Critic has obtained information revealing a worrying situation in regard to the University’s handling of student’s mental health issues. 

The counselling “pilot” scheme that the University of Otago has implemented recently has caused concern to some people, due to the restrictions for students accessing counselling sessions in excess of six times. 

The scheme was instigated as a result of the discovery that some students were waiting up to four to five weeks to see a Student Health Counsellor, a “situation of concern for Student Health, students and the University alike.” 

The specific concerns were outlined too and included “wastefulness of bookings”, “time it took to be seen” and even the “potential risk to individuals who required help.” 

The university also say that the 2016 pilot is intended to create a nimble, stepped care approach to the mental and emotional needs of students. However, one criticism leveled at the scheme is that students might need longer than the six allowed appointments in more serious situations.

The university answered a question in the email Critic obtained, assuring the questioner that “there is no “strict no-exceptions policy” with regards to student counselling services. Where a student’s needs exceed the six session limit, a review is undertaken to ascertain how these on-going needs can be met.” 

“In fact”, the university says, “between 60 and 70 percent of student presentations complete their counselling interaction in as few as three sessions.” 

Currently, there are “13 students on the counselling waiting list” and the university say they will “have these students allocated to a counsellor within approximately one week.” The information also shows the university denying that the counselling services has a high staff turnover, as they state: “We dispute the claim below that the staff turnover here is high. In fact, the opposite [is true].” They value all “staff within Student Health Services and understands the need for flexibility and latitude to meet changing needs.”

This article first appeared in Issue 8, 2016.
Posted 10:27am Sunday 24th April 2016 by Joe Higham.