Why don't students use the Student Counseling Center more often?

By Bill Brown

In order to start this off, I'm going to pick an issue that's frequently on my mind and that's why don't students use the Student Counseling Center more often. Before coming to Wesleyan, I worked for years in both the public and private sector providing counseling and psychotherapy. In every place I ever worked, there were folks climbing all over themselves to get the service and they were frequently angry when they couldn't, whether it was due to lack of insurance or having to go on a waiting list because of the masses that came before them. In my last job, for the city of Virginia Beach's Mental Health Center, we were first limited to doing a set number of sessions with clients and finally told that we could only offer services to the severely disturbed, chronic mentally ill.

Now I find myself in a setting where I am able to offer services to everyone…as often as I think would be helpful and for as long as I think would be helpful…totally free of charge. Yet, when I open up the Counseling Center in the morning, a line of students waiting to get in is not what greets me. I hope it is obvious by now, that I find this very confusing…that I don't have folks beating a path to my door, to take advantage of the opportunity for free therapy…the same therapy that they likely would have to pay $70-$100 an hour for once they graduate. It is astonishing to me that I actually have to aggressively market the center and "beat the bushes" for students at times.

Now please don't get me wrong…I'm not saying that we don't get any business at the Student Counseling Center. We actually stay busy for the most part during the school year and tend to be over-capacity at certain times of each semester. It's just that I am certain there are still students out there that really could benefit from coming in but for whatever reason don't take that step. I know this from talking with students, looking at research and figuring the odds. College nowadays can be a pretty tough and stressful place, so I don't believe it's just that nobody needs the help. Which in a roundabout way brings me to several possible ideas as to why students avoid this opportunity.

  • Some students have difficulty admitting they are having a hard time…for many students this period of time in their lives is seen as a "proving ground", when they will show the world, their parents and themselves that they are capable of handling the independence they fought so hard to get…asking for help can be seen as a sign of weakness or defeat.
  • Some students want to "fit in" and assume everyone else is "doing just fine", so admitting to problems and asking for help relegates one to being "different" with all the stigma attached to that label…what they don't realize is that a significant number of the other students that seem "okay" are going through very similar difficulty but "masking" it in an attempt to appear "on top of things".
  • Some students are either unsure of the types of problems which can be helped by counseling or erroneously believe that only severe or emergency level problems warrant seeing a counselor…they don't realize that the simple process of talking with someone that is objective can be helpful with almost any problem and that many "emergency" level problems could have been averted if the person had taken advantage of that help sooner.
  • Some students avoid seeing a counselor because of a bad experience with counseling prior to college…they do not realize that engaging in counseling as an adult can be a very different experience than when you are a minor or that what high school counselors do is often very different than psychotherapy.
  • Many students feel that they are always pressed for time and aren't sure they want to devote an unknown amount of time to seeing a counselor…they may envision the process of counseling as requiring a large time commitment…they don't realize that because the primary goal of the whole process is to be helpful to them, there is no arbitrary time frame which they must commit to…in fact, the average number of sessions at the center is 3-5 and a number of students feel they got what they needed in one session.

I hope that through postulating these reasons and addressing them, I may have encouraged some students to reconsider the benefits of talking with a counselor. We both really are invested in being helpful to the members of this community. Like I noted above, almost any problem could be helped to some degree by talking with someone that's objective and will keep your business confidential. So, even if your problem is just trying to decide if counseling might be useful to you or not…drop by the Counseling Center, send us an email or pick up a phone and give us a call…I'm pretty sure we can help.