UA Counseling Center Limits Continued Treatment For Students

By Shelby Evans

The Razorback Reporter

Increased requests for service have led the UA Counseling and Psychological Services Center (CAPS) to refer students to outside sources, the executive director of Pat Walker Health Center said.

“All of our resources are going towards that initial contact, sometimes with a few visits thereafter,” said Mary Alice Serafini, executive director of Pat Walker Health Center and associate vice chancellor for student affairs. “But with long-term, extended counseling, referrals are made into the community.”
Last year, just over 30 percent of students used CAPS, which is located in the Pat Walker Health Center, Josette Cline, director of CAPS said in an email. The UA fall enrollment was 27,194, according to university data.

Visits with the on-site emergency counselors have increased by 42 percent and first-time visits increased by 23 percent in the first six weeks of the semester, Serafini said. CAPS officials declined to release the number of students who sought treatment so far this semester.

The rate of students seeking mental health treatment is rising throughout the country. An annual report from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State University showed “slow but consistent” growth in students showing signs of depression, anxiety and social anxiety. About 20 percent of students seeking mental health treatment are taking up about half of all campus counseling center appointments nationally, according to the report.

From 2010 to 2015, the number of college students in the U.S. attending counseling rose by 3.6 percent, according to data gathered by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health from 139 institutions.

“There could be many reasons for the increase, but a main one is that there were two student deaths that impacted this campus greatly this semester,” Serafini said, referring to a Sept. 2 scooter wreck that left sophomore Cole Pangburn with fatal injuries and the Sept. 16 suicide by freshman Ashley Lane Marrs.

Because of increased counseling requests, the center has not been able to meet with each student as often as they would like, Serafini said. CAPS assesses whether a student is a high risk and goes from there, Serafini said.
To help with the increasing need for counselors, CAPS is scheduled to expand to the entire second floor of the health center and plans to add nine counselors, Serafini said.

“Administration, Wellness and the Woman’s Clinic will move to the new expansion,” Serafini said.

This has been the plan since the health center opened in 2004, Serafini said.

“We’ve been looking at an expansion of CAPS for quite a while,” Serafini said. “Our operations are funding the expansion (of the health center). In 2014 we started charging for office visits on students’ insurance plans for medical care and a few charges also in CAPS for psychiatric care and counseling.”

Those fees will continue after the expansion is completed to help pay for the additional staff, Serafini said.

“Once we have adequate space, we will have to hire more counselors so we have to have a means to pay them,” Serafini said. “It’s a significant increase in our operating budget.”

There are four full-time counselors at CAPS. Two other counselors work three days a week and one counselor works one day, said Zac Brown, assistant director of communications for the Pat Walker Health Center.

Three psychologists work full time. Three social workers work full time, and one social worker works three days a week. Two psychiatrists work part time.

The expanded center will be built to accommodate 23 mental health clinicians, Serafini said.

“Our whole philosophy here at Pat Walker is to give students access to the care that they need,” she said. “We know that students are here to achieve great things academically in the 16-week semesters, and so when distresses come into their life, they like to have access to moving on with what they’re coping with.”


A version of this article appeared in the Arkansas Traveler