CAPS transitions to remote services, provides workshops for out of state students


Illustration by Emma Ruck

One of MMHI’s first accomplishments was adding the first Muslim provider — the Khalil Center — to the list of referrals that CAPS gives students when connecting them with off-campus mental health resources. It is still the only Muslim provider on the list of 217 resources.

Arianna Carpati, Reporter

Northwestern Counseling and Psychological Services is providing therapy remotely during the COVID-19 outbreak through TeleMental Health sessions and online workshops and gatherings.

One of the largest obstacles facing remote therapy sessions is that psychologists are only licensed to practice in one state, including both in person and remote sessions. Therefore, CAPS can only provide TeleMental Health sessions for students who remain in Illinois. For those who have left the state, CAPS launched a large provider database that students can use to find referrals in the state where they currently reside.

Privacy is another issue remote therapy has posed, said Claudia Rosen, co-founder of Connections Health. During an in-person session, the rooms that clients and therapists use are private and often sound-proof; however, at home, it is harder to find a space like that, Rosen said.

“Sometimes they can go outside and have a session on their phone because they have some privacy there,” Rosen said. “Or maybe go in the car, to have some privacy, or set up some sound screen for themselves. Maybe if they don’t want to disclose that they’re in therapy, to say they have a meeting and need some privacy around it. So there’s all kinds of issues that normally we take care of on our end that they’re having to address on their end.”

Monika Gutkowska, staff psychologist and associate director of outreach and education, said there are pros and cons to remote therapy sessions. She noted one of the benefits of remote sessions is that if clients choose to speak on the phone, they can take a walk, pet their dog, and generally be in a space where they feel comfortable. However, she said, there is a connection lost without face-to-face interaction.

Executive director John Dunkle, who oversees CAPS and the Center for Awareness, Response and Education, said staff prepared to move services online by undergoing a six hour training program through the American Psychological Association. Research, he said, shows that virtual sessions are effective.

“I haven’t seen any research in terms of actual compared to face-to-face,” Dunkle said. “But I can tell you anecdotally from what I’ve observed and heard from my staff, is that the students are very much appreciating the opportunity to maintain sessions with their therapist.”

While CAPS cannot provide remote therapy sessions for out of state students, the online workshops and gatherings CAPS is offering are available to both in and out of state students, Gutkowska said.

CAPS offers workshops on coping with stress, as well as mindfulness workshops that teach students basic meditation practices as well as the research supporting their benefits. There are several other workshops around acceptance and commitment therapy, including a mental health Q&A every Thursday.

“We also recognize that anti-Asian racism and xenophobia are on the rise, and we’re very disturbed by it, so we want to make sure that students know that we are there for them and they are not alone,” Gutkowska said.

CAPS provides resources on their website related to this topic for Asian and Asian-American students, as well as others who want to learn how to be an ally.

Gutkowska said she hopes to soon provide recorded versions of many of the workshops for the benefit of students who cannot attend. A full schedule of all the workshops available can be found on the CAPS website.

In collaboration with Health Promotion and Wellness and Religious and Spiritual Life, CAPS is participating in a 21 days of wellness campaign on social media and will offer a variety of tips on their Instagram page. CAPS is also promoting its Breathe app and WellTrack app, which has modules on a variety of wellness topics.

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