College Counseling Centers Turn to Teletherapy to Treat Students for Anxiety (Chronicle)

September 26, 2014

By Jared Misner

James D. Herbert tells one of his patients to go into the bathroom—with a laptop.

Although his request may seem odd, Mr. Herbert, chair of Drexel University’s psychology department, in Philadelphia, is with a client.

Sort of.

Mr. Herbert is one of many mental-health professionals across the country who use teletherapy to counsel patients online. With this particular patient, Mr. Herbert is treating obsessive compulsive disorder, which results in frequent handwashing. Through teletherapy, Mr. Herbert can interact with the patient while he is in the actual area where the behavior manifests itself.

The trend of treating patients online is spreading rapidly at the nation’s colleges, especially to deal with anxiety, one of the leading reasons students turn to counseling centers.

According to a 2013 survey by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors, nearly 6 percent of the 380 colleges participating in the study now use some form of teletherapy. While that number might not seem high, it’s up from less than 0.5 percent in 2012.

Mr. Herbert predicts more colleges will be trying the approach soon. “It’s growing by leaps and bounds,” he says.

‘Being at Home’

At the University of Florida, students struggling with anxiety can visit its counseling center and, after an initial, in-person consultation with a counselor, can elect to start a seven-week program called Therapist Assisted Online. The program works like an online course, complete with videos and online activities. Once a week, students meet with their specific counselor, one on one, through a videoconference for 10 to 15 minutes to discuss their anxiety.

That means students visit the counseling center only once and can do the rest from the comfort of their dormitory room. “They like the idea of being at home,” Brian C. Ess, a counselor at Florida’s Counseling and Wellness Center, says.

Last year about 100 students enrolled in the online program. At least two other colleges—Loyola Marymount University and the University of Kentucky—are testing Therapist Assisted Online for possible adoption.

Things work a bit differently at the Savannah College of Art and Design, where counselors offer weekly group webinars to help students manage stress.

During an eight-week program, counselors teach a different stress-management tool each week, and students may attend as many or as few of the sessions as they like. As students learn to meditate and relax, they can choose to use a webcam for two-way viewing or simply use audio or chat features to talk with counselors.

“We’re really trying to make connections with students,” says Tamara S. Grosz, the Georgia college’s director of counseling and student accommodations. “Because if we connect with students, we can destigmatize the services so students can seek access earlier.”

In the stress-management group, which the college has offered for four years, participation varies from three students to 12 students each week, Ms. Grosz says.

About Ryan C. Fowler

Ryan is a curricular fellow at the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington D.C. He also teaches at Franklin and Marshall College and Lancaster Theological Seminary.
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