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Mental health services restricted by remote delivery

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For many college students across the country, COVID-19 has meant a drastic decline in mental health. The uncertainty of the future, coupled with restrictions on social gatherings, have left many students feeling more isolated than ever.

At Miami University, students are able to utilize Student Counseling Services (SCS), where they can speak with a counselor or a mental health professional. There, students can discuss any concerns they may be having regarding their mental health, whether due to COVID-19 or other circumstances. In the past, students were able to approach counselors directly and in person. 

Following the decision to go remote, SCS has begun utilizing a form of therapy called teletherapy, or telebehavioral health services.

Per the SCS Q&A webpage, while all sessions are completely remote, the service is available only to students currently located within Ohio. The service is not available to out-of-state or international students who chose to remain remote for the fall semester.

“Students are only eligible to be seen if they are in the state of Ohio because that is a requirement of our licenses,” said Laura Wonsik, a Clinical Counselor within SCS. “Since there is no national license standard for mental health providers, clinicians are licensed within certain states.”

While SCS is unable to work around this rule for students not present within Ohio, Wonsik hopes that should the need for teletherapy be long term, an exception will be made.

“This was never an issue for clinicians prior to the standard use of teletherapy,” Wonsik said. “Hopefully in the future, as we adapt to this new normal, a national license will emerge.”

Students are also expected to be in the same location for each teletherapy session. In addition to verifying physical location and address at the beginning of each appointment, therapists are allowed to request to see a student’s space.

“Students are required to verify their physical location because it’s essential that we be able to dispatch support or help if a crisis were to emerge during a session,” Wonsik said.

“We understand that this method is going to feel different than being with a clinician in person,” SCS wrote. “We want to replicate the experience as much as possible. In order to do that, we require students to behave as though they are physically with a therapist.”

In addition to the restrictions on who can and cannot utilize teletherapy sessions, some students feel information on how to contact mental health services on campus is limited.

“I’ve been here almost two months, and I haven’t heard about how to get in contact with anyone,” said first-year computer science major Conor O’Loughlin. “I mean, I knew there was a number you could call, but besides that, I haven’t gotten any information.”

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For first-year students especially, the transition to college has been marked by stress and uncertainty. For a group that has the most to gain from talking with a counselor, O’Loughlin feels they’ve been kept the most in the dark.

“You’d think that we’d be a priority,” O’Loughlin said. “That they would want to help us if we’re struggling. So I don’t know why they haven’t given us any access to these resources.”

lordance@miamioh.edu

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