CAPS changes approach to serving students

The Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) office at Oregon State University has seen a 44 percent increase in the number of students seeking services during 2010-11, an increase officials attribute to more student awareness of the services available.

And while CAPS staff members say they are pleased with that awareness – and more student willingness to utilize counseling services – they acknowledge that the increase also has a downside.

“The increase has caused our system to be stretched in ways that were not meeting the needs of students well,” said CAPS director Jackie Alvarez. “In response, we’ve worked to change the ways students can come into CAPS, and we anticipate the change will better meet student needs.”

Under the old system, students made an initial appointment by coming into the CAPS office to fill out paperwork, and then scheduled their appointment. However, with the increase in demand, students were sometimes waiting up to four weeks for their first appointment.

“This was unacceptable, both to them and to us,” Alvarez said.

Now, students can make same-day appointments the first time they come into CAPS. Students can call 541-737-2131 after 8:30 a.m. to set up a time that will work in their schedule that day. There are a limited number of appointments so students must call early. Students can fill out paperwork when they arrive, and will then have a 50-minute appointment with a counselor.

In these same-day first appointments, students will have an opportunity to talk confidentially with a counselor about their immediate concerns, and the counselor will evaluate what services or resources will be most helpful. Some students find that talking with a counselor once is sufficient to resolve the immediate concern.

If further services would be beneficial, these will be discussed and the counselor will make recommendations. These additional services may include resources offered by CAPS and/or referrals to other campus or community resources.

CAPS will continue to offer emergency services for students in crisis, but is no longer utilizing what previously was called the “urgent care system” because non-emergency cases were clogging the appointment books. Instead, students who are suicidal, excessively violent, or bothered by violent thoughts, or who have recently experienced violence or trauma are urged to call the office and connect with a counselor as soon as possible. If the student already has a counselor, an emergency appointment can be made with that counselor.

Staff or faculty members with acute concerns about a student’s safety should also contact the CAPS office immediately, to discuss the best way to manage the situation, rather than walking the student over to the office, unless it is an emergency situation.

If students call CAPS and all the same-day appointments are taken, then they will be asked if they need to speak with a counselor that day. If so, a triage counselor will call the students, assess their needs and make a recommendation to either:
• call the next day for an appointment if the concern is not critical,
• refer them to same-day crisis care if they are a danger to themselves or others, or have very recently experienced violence or trauma,
• pre-schedule a next-day appointment if the concern is urgent but not critical (which will be done only in rare instances).

CAPS will continue to provide consultation services for all OSU community members. Students, faculty or staff who are worried about a student or other member of the OSU community may call CAPS to consult about their concern, get tips for talking to the person of concern, and strategies for referring that person to CAPS.

CAPS is also seeking feedback on these changes. For more information see http://oregonstate.edu/counsel/

~Theresa Hogue

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