The counseling center at James Madison University recently announced that, “due to an ongoing high level of demand for clinical services and the limits of our resources, the Counseling Center is no longer able to defer to students’ preferences or requests to meet individually with a counselor.”
A lot of JMU students misinterpreted this as the counselor center saying they are no longer offering individual counseling sessions at all. Because of this, the JMU Counseling Center released a statement on October 9th clarifying that “we have not eliminated individual counseling” despite students being able to receive individual counseling in the past after voicing a strong desire to not go to group therapy. There has been a lot of students who were affected by this policy, and yet it does not seem that the Counseling Center will be changing their policy anytime soon.
What I really don’t understand though is that the reason for all of this is due to a higher demand of students seeking to get help from the counseling center, and the counseling center not having enough resources. Instead of expanding their staff or looking into offering more resources for these students, the JMU Counseling Center is essentially turning them away. Granted, they could always take part in a group therapy session, but many students don’t feel comfortable doing this, and rightfully so.
Not only may students not feel comfortable sharing with a group how they are struggling, but many students may not be able to seek help within the Harrisonburg community due to financial or other personal reasons. It’s not clear how the counseling center determines who qualifies to receive individual counseling, and who does not. However, I think it’s fair to say that instead of turning away students from a one on one session the JMU Counseling Center should increase their staff size to accommodate the JMU student needs. This year three new counselors were hired to work for JMU, and that is still not enough to meet student’s needs. However, instead of acknowledging the terrifying fact that there are still not enough staff members to help the alarming amount of students at JMU who are struggling and reaching out for help, the Counseling Center is turning students away.
With suicide being the second leading cause of death among college students, I am disappointed in JMU and the Counseling Center. I have personally never received any sort of counseling, but I can only imagine how it must feel to recognize that you are struggling, finally working up the courage to get help on campus, and then being told that group therapy sessions are my only option.
Plus, even if a student who goes to the counseling center is open to group therapy, they would have to put their name down on the waitlist that the counseling center now has.
To the students who were able to receive one on one counseling last year but are now being turned away, I am sorry. To the students who can’t afford to go to another counselor off campus, I am sorry. And to every student who is open to group therapy but is still on the waitlist, I am sorry.
I hope JMU, Tim Miller, and the Counseling Center get their act together soon and realize the mistake they’ve made before it may be too late for that one student who desperately needed help, and was not able to get it.