An Introduction to Student Services

As centralization of academic support services is announced (opposite page), Dr. Kelley devotes her occasional column to another consolidation of students services that faculty can turn to.

Changes in the Air

Dear Colleagues,

During the past few months, several of our student services have undergone considerable reorganization to provide more efficient and effective help for students in need. Since the faculty so often are the ones to refer students to such services and so often turn to these same services for consultation, I thought it would be valuable if I were to alert you to the changes so that you would know which phone numbers to call and what to expect thereafter.

The first change in question is the merger of the former Student Health Mental Health Service and the former University Counseling Service. As of the first of July, the two joined together on the second floor of the Mellon Bank Building under the title "Counseling and Psychological Services" in order to provide a central place where students could obtain the fullest range of assistance. Many of you may have read last spring in The Philadelphia Inquirer about the considerable increase in the number of college and university students across the country who are being referred to their school's counseling services for serious psychological problems. Penn's students are no exception: many are finding their studies impaired not only by common developmental issues such as procrastination, exam panic or career anxiety, family discord, or relationship problems, but also by such sometimes incapacitating or even life-threatening illnesses as depression, bi-polar disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder. By combining Student Health Mental Health with University Counseling, the new Counseling and Psychological Services can bring a team approach to student problems, one that builds on the skills of psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers to offer more thorough consultation, short-term treatment, and/or informed referral.

When you suggest to a student that Counseling and Psychological Services might be a good resource to turn to, both you and the student might wish to know exactly what is waiting, besides a kind welcome, on the second floor of the Mellon Bank Building. Here, then, is a brief sketch of the gateway into counseling at Penn.

(Please consult the Faculty Resource Guide to Student Services for steps to take in a real crisis. The information below is not meant for psychiatric emergencies.)

When a student calls Counseling and Psychological Services (898-7021), the receptionist will ask a few pertinent questions to begin to determine the student's needs and will then set up the first appointment. For those with a problem that needs immediate attention, two on-call counselors are available every day to meet briefly with such students to determine if they need a full appointment immediately or can wait to be scheduled. Even the standard first appointment is usually offered within two or three days. (After hours, students calling the service will hear a message that provides twenty-four-hour emergency numbers for crisis assistance.)

The first session at the Counseling Service is designed to gather information and obtain a clear picture of the student's problems. Generally, if the match between the student and the therapist seems good, the student will continue to work with that therapist. At times it may be clear that a student would be better matched with a different therapist, one whose gender, age, ethnic background, or area of specialization is especially suited to that student's concerns and then a referral will be made, usually within the Service, but, where appropriate, to some other agency, on or off campus. At the end of this first session the student and therapist will discuss and agree to a second appointment, set up at a mutually agreeable time, or a suitable referral. While waiting for the day of the next appointment, students are encouraged to call and ask to speak to one of the Associate Directors -- Dr. Leonard Miller or Dr. Robert Wenger -- to let him know if new problems have increased the urgency of their need. Once an appointment is made, should the student feel, then or later, that the problem cannot wait for the assigned hour, he or she should call the Service to discuss the possibility of an earlier appointment. (Do encourage your students to let the counselor know the degree of urgency they feel: what is a manageable wait for one student may be unbearable for another dealing with a similar problem.)

Students should plan to arrive at the office ten or fifteen minutes before their first appointment, (or at their convenience any time before) for they will be asked to fill out some forms and will want to read the handout that explains the range of services in Counseling and Psychological Services and offers reassurance about matters of confidentiality and staffing that many students have in mind when they come for help. The forms that students are asked to fill out are optional and are kept confidential. They include general identifying information, two problem questionnaires, and a weekly schedule and help the counselor get to know something quickly about the student, allow the service keep track of the kinds of problems that bring people to their door, and thus help in matters of hiring, workshop planning, and the like.

Students should realize that Counseling and Psychological Services provides a resource that is used by over two thousand students every year and that the counselors are chosen for their experience in dealing with the academic, career, and personal issues students so often encounter during their years at Penn. If a student wonders whether Counseling and Psychological Services would be a good place to turn, here is a useful guideline: "If something is on your mind that troubles you, interferes with concentration, or in any way impedes your academic or personal progress, Counseling and Psychological Services is worth consulting."

Because any faculty member referring a student to Counseling and Psychological Services may have information about the urgency of the case and may also feel relieved to know that a student has taken advantage of the service, it is a good idea to ask any student one refers for permission to check with the service to make sure that the scheduling of the initial appointment goes smoothly. The student will have to fill out a release of information form at Counseling and Psychological Services for the counselor to give out any information, and students are often willing to do so. Of course a faculty member can always consult with the Services at any time on the best ways to assist a student who is experiencing difficulty in a course. Thus Counseling and Psychological Services can provide help to faculty and students alike.

I hope this message proves useful.


Alice Kelley
Faculty Liaison to Student Services