Why CAPS Needs To Step It Up
By Margot Corper
Exploring the inadequacy of counseling on Tulane's campus
Lining Tulane’s bathroom stalls, classrooms, doorways, and windows are posters creating awareness for Tulane's Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). The prevalence of these reminders are crucial due to the mental health challenges many college students face while attending Tulane. In fact, Emory University conducted an eye-opening survey that found that “one in ten college students has made plans for suicide. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among people aged 15-24, and there are more than 1,000 suicides on college campuses per year.” The list of these statistics goes on.
Yes, CAPS may be doing a good job of promoting itself, but it is far from an adequate program. I investigated to find out the general experience of CAPS for those who have never ventured into its office, with all of its perks and pitfalls laid out.
CAPS offers an array of services including individual therapy, group therapy, and psychiatry. Additionally offered is care coordination where coordinators are tasked with placing patients in the hands of counselors outside of Tulane’s campus.
Prior to receiving care within these realms, the patient in question must meet with a clinician to determine which of these forms of treatment will best fit his or her needs: a process coined the “initial consultation.”
Faulty off the bat, the initial consultation seems impersonal, survey based, and nearly impossible to schedule. Typically the wait time for these meetings is two weeks.
When attempting to schedule counseling sessions and develop a relationship with a therapist students meet a similar set of barriers. First off, the largest number of “brief individual therapy” sessions a student can schedule is limited to 12 per academic year and any missed appointment or late cancellation counts towards that 12-session limit.
Students who can’t afford therapy off campus, which according to Talkspace costs between $75-150/hour, are forced to comply with the limited and rushed care that Tulane offers.
One of the more important services provided by CAPS is the “Group Discussion and Workshop” program. Group therapy is a vital tool for those suffering because it fosters a sense of community many students don’t feel when battling mental illness. A list of group discussion based workshops are listed on the CAPS website.
I decided to speak to a Tulane sophomore who wanted to remain anonymous about her experience with one of these therapy groups.
“In January, upon the recommendation of Student Services, I reached out to CAPS requesting to join the group centered around depression and anxiety,” she said.
“After a two-week waiting period for the appointment and confirmation from Student Services and my advisor that the group was in fact legitimate, I finally got face-to-face with a CAPS clinician only to discover that the group doesn’t exist because it couldn’t fill its six-person minimum requirement. I had even dropped my studio art class to pursue this,” she said “That is how important it was to me.”
Currently, CAPS has 24 staff members and only 11 of them have degrees in either Psychology or Psychiatry. These 24 individuals are expected to serve the mental health needs of a campus comprised of 13,499 students.
In 2015, New York Magazine came out with an article stating that, “Nearly all of the campus mental-health centers surveyed in 2013 by the American College Counseling Association reported that the number of students with severe psychological problems was rising at their schools.” To put it simply, Tulane University needs more counselors.
Ben Locke, the executive director of the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State University, pointed out that typically “campus mental health centers are continually understaffed because their budgets are often based on some kind of historical calculation of the number of students enrolled and previous rates of students requesting appointments.” Obviously, these statistics have risen dramatically.
At a university like Tulane where drug and alcohol use is so aggressively prevalent, mental health awareness should hold particular clout. As stated in volume 32 of the journal of Addictive Behaviors, “Problematic substance use is associated with depression.” Knowing this, Tulane’s main concern should be campus wellness.
Until Tulane develops a capable counseling system, I challenge the school to stop advertising it as such. CAPS promotion seems to focus more on soothing worried parents and pleasing investors rather than supporting its students.