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Affordable Mental Health Options – University Counseling Centers

Affordable Mental Health Options – University Counseling Centers

Someone looking for affordable mental health treatment will encounter some recognizable choices like the community mental health centers and private practice therapy offices found in many areas across the country. While these selections are ideal for a number of people, others will benefit from treatment, another lesser-known option – the university counseling center.


Though seeking counseling on a college campus may not seem like an obvious choice at first, it is a viable option that can make a notable difference in your health or the health of your loved one. If there is a college or university nearby, you should consider these campuses and the professionals within them as a source for your affordable mental health care.


The Basics of University Counseling Centers

 Nearly every institution of higher learning provides a counseling center. These centers are fantastic resources to the college community by delivering a variety of mental health services like:

  •     Individual therapy – one-on-one treatment with a therapist.
  • Group therapy – meetings involving many clients and at least one therapist.
  • Couples therapy – appointments with a client and their partner to improve the relationship by building trust and communication.


Beyond these therapies, university counseling centers often hold informational workshops with the professional acting more as a teacher than a therapist. The goal of these trainings is to educate the public regarding a number of topics like sexual assault, substance abuse, conflict resolution, and stress management. The individuals in attendance can then apply the subject matter to their lives and improve their well-being without the need for more in-depth treatment.


All of these of these treatment options are available for no cost or a very low fee, which makes university counseling centers a preferred choice for many in need of affordable mental health treatment.


University Counseling Centers for Students

 At college campuses from coast to coast, counseling services are included as a part of the tuition for every student just as the college is likely to offer access to a medical professional in a health center to address physical health needs. Colleges realize many students struggle with the new and emerging stresses of college life, so tending to these needs is in the best interests of the students, their parents, and the university itself.

The best counseling centers will take a proactive approach by holding frequent workshops and seminars to educate the community on the problems most frequently encountered by college students. The presenters cover a range of topics from being homesick to identifying the severe mental health symptoms which usually present during early adulthood.


University Counseling Centers for the Community


Many university counseling centers will provide free or heavily discounted services to anyone in the community in need of mental health treatment as well as students. On the outside, it might seem like the college is volunteering therapy as a community service, but it is actually a mutually beneficial relationship.


Think of it this way: People training to be dentists need real teeth to clean and drill, and people training to be hairstylists need real hair to dye and trim. In the same way, people training to be therapists need an assortment of people with various needs and goals to learn the science and the art of therapy. The client’s get treatment, and the therapist learns. It’s a classic win-win relationship.


University Counseling Centers Benefits and Drawbacks


The college campus is a unique environment for therapy services with a distinctive set of pros and cons. As always, it is invaluable to understand the risks and benefits before starting the treatment process.


Issue 1 – Therapist Experience

 College counseling centers will have a staff of professional, licensed therapists with backgrounds in social work, counseling, or psychology, but these people might only see a small percentage of the total clients. The majority of clients will be treated by student interns or inexperienced graduates who are still honing their therapy skills. New therapists might struggle to resolve symptoms or provide helpful interventions like a seasoned veteran.


Lack of experience is not all bad, though. New therapists:

  •   Are trained in the latest and most effective treatment styles for a particular issue.
  • Tend to commit a lot of time and attention to their clients.
  •  Receive consistent supervision from a licensed therapist to continuing developing their technique.
  • Offer new concepts that other therapists might not consider.


Issue 2 – Session Limits

College counseling centers usually don’t permit an endless number of sessions. Instead, each student is limited to a certain number of sessions over the course of a semester or a school year. With restrictions in place, the client and the therapist will have to plan a system to space out sessions focused on managing symptoms while avoiding gaps in treatment.


You might think that more therapy is better than less, but limitations can be beneficial. With less time in treatment, the situation forces the clients and therapist to focus on solutions from the beginning in order to complete goals quickly and efficiently.


Issue 3 – Confidentiality

 With therapy, higher convenience sometimes leads to lower confidentiality. Walking a few minutes across campus to therapy might seem like a good idea, but it could jeopardize your anonymity, especially if you are a college student.


Since students staff various roles at the counseling center, someone you sit next to in class or bump into at a party could be your therapist. The same problem presents if you attend group therapy and fellow group members are your peers. Confidentiality is a cornerstone of effective treatment, so you will have to be comfortable with the arrangement.


Issue 4 – Referrals

 No matter how hard the therapist tries, some people will need more sessions or more intense treatments than the college center can offer. Due to this limitation, college counseling centers frequently refer their client’s to other treatment providers like the community mental health or private practice centers mentioned earlier.


The good part is the college counseling therapist will have a solid understanding of the client’s needs and wants. They can make an appropriate referral to another capable therapist or therapy program, and the client still has the power to accept or refuse treatment.


The bad part is the client will have to start over with a new therapist. Additionally, the referral could lead to treatment that less affordable or less convenient.


Starting Therapy at a University Counseling Center


The steps to begin therapy at a college counseling center will vary depending on each location and the person’s status student status. Much of the information will be located on the school’s website. Some schools will have a completely electronic procedure, and others will require a phone call or face-to-face meeting to initiate services.


Everyone will receive an intake evaluation to understand the reasons for seeking treatment and the desired goals. If the college’s services are not appropriate for your situation, ask for a recommendation to a competent therapist in the area.


Must-Ask Therapy Questions


At these early stages of treatment, it is essential for you to ask questions and understand the policies and practices of the counseling center. By doing this, you can help ensure a positive experience.

Ask questions like:

  •  Can students and community members attend treatment?
  • Do therapy services incur any fees?
  • Do my family members or university staff have to know about my treatment?
  • How many sessions can I have each semester or each year?
  • What happens if my symptoms continue after my sessions are all used?
  • Will my therapist be a professional or a student?
  • Do they receive regular supervision?
  •  Will I have access to a psychiatric evaluation or psychiatric medications?
  • What steps does the school take to protect my confidentiality?


Not everyone will have access to a nearby school campus, but for those attending a university or living in a college town, the institutions counseling center can offer a helpful alternative to other affordable mental health centers. Be sure to explore the balance of benefits and drawbacks to see college counseling is the best option for you.


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Eric Patterson
Posted on 02/19/2019 by Eric Patterson

Eric Patterson is a licensed professional counselor from the Pittsburgh area who aims to help his clients improve their mental health and lead better lives. For the past 5 years, Eric has written extensively on the topics of mental health and addiction for various print and online sites with the goal of providing accurate and engaging content. Outside of work, Eric loves spending time with his family, listing to indie rock music, and going for long runs in the summertime.