Students think there’s a hard limit on counseling sessions at CMHC. But that’s not true.
Counseling and Mental Health Center dispels rumors of session limits, explains resource constraints.
Like most college freshmen, Blaire Kelley pulled all-nighters in her first semester — but for weeks on end. Kelley quickly developed anxiety-induced insomnia and knew seeking treatment at UT’s Counseling and Mental Health Center was the next step.
Kelley’s pursuit of treatment came to a halt when she was only scheduled for a single counseling session after her initial consultation.
“It felt like complete and utter disappointment,” psychology freshman Kelley said. “I don’t think they have the resources to provide long-term treatment, and it would have been a lot less disappointing if they had conveyed that (more clearly).”
So, how many sessions are UT students allowed at CMHC? What’s the session limit? The idea of a session limit, or a maximum number of counseling appointments, is a common belief UT students hold, but according to CMHC Clinical Director Marla Craig, it’s nothing but an age-old campus rumor.
After an initial assessment, CMHC will put a specific number of sessions into a student’s schedule to ensure follow-up appointments are in place, Craig said. The number of sessions students are allotted is often thought of as a limit, but Craig said students always have access to crisis counseling or walk-in appointments.
“I hear it all the time,” Craig said. “We (initially) do try to schedule students with so many in a row so that they know when they’re coming. That doesn’t mean it’s a limit. That just means we want to make sure it’s in their schedule.”
Some students will be given more scheduled sessions than others, Craig said, based on severity of symptoms, approach to treatment and other factors. Because CMHC is a short-term care facility, these scheduled sessions are designed to address the student’s symptoms until long-term outside treatment can be established.
Factors such as urgency of care, severity of symptoms, family support, if the student has ever sought help, access to transportation and health insurance are taken into account when scheduling the quantity of sessions, said Katy Redd, associate director of CMHC.
“We don’t have limits because the truth is that everybody gets something different,” Redd said. “The truth is that we’re a short-term counseling center. It’s not like we have the ability to provide every student on campus with an infinite number of sessions.”
Echoing Craig’s statement, Redd said one student calling with a particular set of symptoms and access to resources would inevitably receive a different treatment plan from another student walking in with different concerns.
“No matter who calls us or when, we’re always going to do a brief assessment with them to see what’s going on and make an assessment from there (about) which of our services or services in a community are going to be the best fit for them,” Redd said.
Redd said the initial assessment of sessions could change after a student meets with a counselor to discuss treatment. In addition, if an off-campus referral does not work for a student, students are welcome to call CMHC again and work with a case manager to create a new plan.
“Sometimes there (are) better options than (us), and I think sometimes people don’t want to hear that all the time,” Craig said. “They want to stay right here.”
‘We do the best that we can’
For any short-term counseling center, there are obstacles. When fully staffed, CMHC has four psychiatrists and about 40 counselors, which includes social workers, psychologists and licensed professional counselors. When Kelley sought treatment at CMHC mid-semester, she encountered a fully-booked staff and no available group therapy.
“They should provide that information that ‘we may be full, we may be booked up and you may not be able to get treatment upfront,’” Kelley said. “It’s not as easy and open and available as they convey it.”
Computer science sophomore Ella Robertson experienced another adverse effect of a short-term treatment center: building trust with a health care practitioner only to have that connection broken.
“It’s messy,” Robertson said. “You get … six or so sessions with a therapist and you have that bond and you trust them, and then they say, ‘Actually you should start looking elsewhere,’ … So you’re stuck.”
The reality of university counseling services is that the demand for student mental health care has increased year after year at universities all across the nation, Redd said.
“The majority of college counseling centers are grappling with the same issue, which is how to provide services to an increase in demand when you may not have a corresponding increasing number of counselors,” Redd said. “We do the best that we can.”
Robertson sought counseling in the spring of 2018, when CMHC first started having free counseling services, and said CMHC was caring and receptive to her needs. Robertson received six sessions in addition to extended care while seeking outside referrals.
“I think the staff really cares,” Robertson said. “Everybody who I’ve met there is great, and they are really genuinely helpful.”
Even if counseling appointments and group therapy are full, the center is always available for walk-in crisis support, Redd said.
“The way that our system is structured is so that anybody in a crisis can be seen immediately,” Redd said. “We always want you to give us a call.”
In the 2017-18 academic year, 6,890 students attended a total of 28,097 counseling sessions.
In addition to counseling and psychiatric services, CMHC offers 96 counseling groups ranging from mindfulness and meditation to support groups for anxiety, grief and interpersonal trauma.
Outside of short-term counseling, the center offers a variety of services in the community, Redd said, including a free mobile app, peer educators, a student-run CMHC organization and mental health workshops around campus.
Students can make short-term individual counseling appointments in person by walking into CMHC or by calling 512-471-3515. CMHC also offers same-day walk-in crisis counseling services and a 24/7 Crisis Line at 512-471-CALL (2255) for UT students only.
A list of off-campus counseling and mental health resources can be found at https://cmhc.utexas.edu/counseling_resources.html.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated CMHC served 28,097 students in 2017-18. That number is the total number of counseling sessions offered. CMHC actually served 6,890 individual students in 2017-18. The Texan regrets this error.