Pilot Wellness Center program receives student interest

The Wellness Center is located on the second floor of Winslow Hall. (Marya Kuratova / McDaniel Free Press).

The Wellness Center, located on the second floor of Winslow Hall, is the primary source of mental and physical healthcare for many students on campus. It provides free services such as health examinations, short-term counseling, and group counseling.

These services have proven beneficial to students, which has prompted the Wellness Center to extend these services through a new program. This piloted program—the Wellness Extended Support Program (WESP)—is designed to guarantee weekly sessions for students with mental health needs that would benefit from long-term, accessible counseling.

On Nov. 14, Dean Liz Towle sent an email to undergraduate students with details about the program. Prior to this, information about the program was initially made available to first-year students registered with Student Academic Support Services (SASS).

“The first sharing of information about WESP was through SASS,” said Heidi Huber, director of the Wellness Center. “This was because some of our students registered with SASS have mental health diagnoses, and would benefit from longer-term counseling. That is one part of the student population that we have really been wanting to serve better if possible.”

Since the email, the Wellness Center has received calls from students curious about the program or other facets of the Wellness Center.

Huber is ecstatic about this, explaining that “[Dean Towle]’s email was a great way to share information with the student body about the program. There were students that saw information about the WESP and have contacted myself or Dean Towle. We can share more information with students when they reach out with interest.”

According to Huber, “The vast majority of our students [tend to use] short-term counseling. Our short-term model is about eight to 10 sessions, though that is different case by case. The reality is that students on average use about five to six sessions.”

She then explained that WESP is available to all students as a way to extend that short-term model.

“It is a fee-based program, similarly to some of the levels of support within SASS,” Huber said. “SASS has a base level of support and the WC has a base level of support that is important to provide to all of our students. The WESP is a small, meaning limited, program for students whose mental health needs would benefit from longer-term counseling, and that having that on-campus makes sense for them in both desire and convenience.”

The program is also meant to assist students who may be prevented from receiving long-term care off-campus. Huber listed several barriers students may face when attempting to access counseling in the community. This could include transportation, as well as difficulties in finding local counselors who are a good match for a student’s needs and cultural background.

Some students have expressed concern over the price of the program, which is approximately $1500. Both Towle and Huber want to reassure students that they are aware of the potential barrier the fee may create. They are looking to create some scholarship opportunities on a case-by-case basis as a way to help with the fee.

“Currently, there are not any definitive cut-offs in terms of financial need or in terms of other kinds of needs,” Huber said of the scholarship process. “The application involves a few questions wherein the student has to write a statement about how they feel the long-term support of the WESP program would meet their mental health needs, what are the barriers for that individual student from accessing longer-term mental health services in the community, and then a question that is more specifically about financial limitations.”

The candidates are expected to demonstrate “that the clinical needs are appropriate to our services, that there really are some barriers to accessing help off-campus, and that there is some level of financial need,” said Huber.

It should be acknowledged that there are limited spots both in WESP and the scholarships. The exact number of accepted students is unknown and still under consideration.

“At the moment, that scholarship information is being shared with students who have made contact with the Wellness Center and who are interested in longer-term support,” Huber said. “The counseling services will make a decision based on how many applicants we have at any one time or how much availability there is at any one time.”

Students are encouraged to contact the Wellness Center for more information, as the program considers the needs of its students on a case-by-case basis.

Huber also reassures that WESP will not come at the expense of the student body. The Wellness Center is primarily focused on its short-term counseling.

“Programs like this need time to be fully fleshed out and detailed,” Huber said. “We want to make sure that we have enough staffing to ensure our primary continuation of really quality short-term counseling, group counseling, and crisis intervention. That can’t suffer just because we are trying to add this additional resource for a small number of students.”

For students not eligible for the WESP, their Wellness Center experience is not much changed. Following a phone triage and initial appointment, they will be able to attend short-term counseling for approximately eight to 10 sessions throughout a semester.

There are other services offered through the Wellness Center for counseling needs, many of which simply need a greater expression of student interest. One such service—group counseling—is also undergoing a series of pilots. Currently pursuing student interest, the Wellness Center is attempting to offer group counseling on topics like interpersonal relationships, grief, social anxiety, and sexual assault.

“We are offering these services so that students can have ongoing counseling, even if it’s not one-on-one or indefinite,” Huber said. “The group counseling is not limited.”

Reviews for the WESP within administration and the Wellness Center have thus far been positive. The likelihood of its success is promising.

“I think we really see [the WESP] as a positive addition to the services that we have been providing,” Huber said.

As evident in Towle’s email, she is supportive of the new program as well.

“I think that many college students here at McDaniel and nationwide have different struggles and challenges, so the role of counseling can be critical to their success,” Towle later said. “I think the WESP program came about to be another avenue for students to receive the support they need.”