Restoring UCC’s reputation of responsiveness
As three former GW staff psychologists, we really can’t say we’re pleased to read the revelations in the article, “Former counselors, staff say UCC leadership hurts students” (Nov. 17, p. 1), as it saddens us to read that what was once a stimulating and supportive environment has become an increasingly hostile workplace to recent and current employees.
We believe that what you are witnessing is the latest iteration of what has been a long process of stripping away any semblance of an authentic student service orientation in favor of a model that values units of service over quality of service. The current rate of staff turnover is alarming, and, we suspect, demoralizing and damaging to those left behind, such as colleagues, students and clients.
This trend suggests that the current University Counseling Center environment is no longer the safe, collaborative and collegial environment which attracted and sustained a competent, cohesive and largely satisfied clinical staff when we were there.
We must understand that the UCC exists within a larger system, and if you want to understand how the Center arrived at the current crisis, attention should also be directed to the Division of Student and Academic Support Services administration, which has oversight and direction over the UCC.
When Steve was hired in 1994, the UCC and Student and Academic Support Services collaborated to establish a vision for optimizing the effectiveness and reputation of UCC on campus. This was also true when Bill and Kim were hired in 1995 and 1999, respectively. Were we perfect? Of course not. But the climate was one of responsiveness to student needs and criticism, which we thought reflected the responsiveness of the administration to the needs and critical feedback of the UCC staff.
At the time there was also a vibrant training program for graduate students in clinical and counseling psychology, which not only increased the number of available clinicians to students, but also created an ongoing climate of clinical evaluation, collaboration and learning that buoyed morale, stimulated enhancement of clinical skills and contributed to a consistent and stable core of clinical staff.
As the UCC’s units-of-service model became more firmly entrenched at GW, however, the training programs were systematically dismantled, and ultimately eliminated by an increasingly short-sighted and at-times arrogant administration.
During our time, the dean of students office increasingly became more reactive, emphasized form over substance and often second guessed the clinical decision making of UCC staff and the policies of its director. This trend was underway when all three of us decided to leave between 1999 and 2003.
We were proud to be psychologists at GW for a number of years, and would have stayed much longer were it not for the initial harbingers of things to come. As administrative changes took place at Student and Academic Support Services over the years, collaboration gradually gave way to a more authoritarian, micro-managerial approach that, in our views, isolated the UCC and interfered with its effectiveness.
Our sincere hope is that the exposure of some of these problems in the larger system will result in a careful and thoughtful analysis of how to restore not only the reputation of the UCC, but its effectiveness and collaborative role in the larger community.
While some of us have been gone from GW for well over a decade, we would love to see its reputation restored as a place to which students and practitioners in psychology from around the country flock in order to work and train.
Steve Van Wagoner, Bill Pinney and Kim Sutter are former University Counseling Center staff psychologists.