New CAPS Employee Should Help Decrease Students’ Wait Times

Elise Foley

By Elise Foley The Daily Northwestern

After almost two years of staffing shortages, a new employee at Northwestern’s Counseling and Psychological Services will help to decrease wait times and improve the service’s effectiveness, officials said.

About 10 to 12 percent of NU undergraduate students use CAPS, said Dr. John Dunkle, the service’s director.

NU’s usage rate is about 4 percent higher than the national median but similar to the rates at peer institutions, he said.

“I think there’s something about this type of institution,” Dunkle said. “But also, I think we do a great job getting out in the community and educating about what we do. As a result, we get a lot of referrals.”

The addition of the staff member was announced Tuesday at a meeting for students and university administrators to discuss last Monday’s shootings at Virginia Tech.

With the new employee, students using CAPS should experience shorter wait times to be assigned to ongoing therapy sessions, Dunkle said. Students can set up intake appointments or visit CAPS during the facility’s walk-in hours.

In emergency situations, students can call a crisis hotline and are treated as quickly as possible, while students looking for ongoing treatment are placed on a wait list, Dunkle said.

“Our hope is to have no wait list at all when we get the new position filled,” Dunkle said. “Mental illnesses have been increasing on college campuses all over the country. The longevity of these issues is starting to weigh on centers.”

The transition to a new CAPS director in 2005 left one position open, and the death of a training director last June created another gap, Dunkle said. This coincided with an increase in the need for mental health services on campus, he said. In response, two new psychologists were hired and a request was made in December for a new psychologist position.

Dunkle said he hopes to expand the eating concern assessment team, of which the new position will be a part. Eventually he said he would like to expand CAPS substance abuse treatment and increase the session limit, which currently allows undergraduate students 12 CAPS sessions during their time at NU.

“I’m happy not only for CAPS but I’m also happy for the students that we will be able to help,” Dunkle said. “Have we met every single need? No. But we’re working really hard and listening to students and our data, and this new position should help us to do so more effectively.”

Vice President for Student Affairs William Banis said Dunkle’s use of data to justify the need for a new staff member led to the approval, along with an additional commitment to student mental health on the part of the university.

“There was a conversion of opportunity and need that came together to create this new position,” Banis said. “Students navigate the challenges of a high pressure institution, and we want to support that as much as possible.”

The decision comes less than a week after the introduction of a resolution to show student support for increasing resources at CAPS at last week’s Associated Student Government meeting.

“I’m really glad that the university saw this opportunity to increase services,” said Weinberg junior Kathy Lin, chairwoman of the CAPS Student Advisory Board. “It’s a step in the right direction.”

Reach Elise Foley at [email protected]