Wait for counseling could last weeks

Student Health Service has seen a 40 percent increase in psychiatric appointments, which students say has created a month-long wait before they can get help.

The wait for psychiatric appointments ranges from three to four weeks, Senior Associate Dean of Students Mark Levine said, adding that “the wait time has fluctuated based on student needs and staffing.”

Students must sit through appointments to be prescribed medication and some said they have been told to wait up to six weeks.

The office has seen 160 appointments so far this year – up from 115 last year – between its two part-time psychiatrists. But Levine said about 60 of this year’s appointments have been “no shows,” despite phone confirmations – creating delays that keep other students from getting into the office faster. He also said one of the two psychiatrists was out “for a short while,” prolonging the wait.

Levine, who is also the interim director of the University Counseling Center, said the waitlist for counseling visits is about a week, on par with past years. But several students said it takes longer.

Senior Amanda Andreski said she walked into the counseling center the first week of classes, looking to see a counselor that day. The receptionist told her the next available appointment was in about two weeks and recommended she seek private counseling.

“I left there pretty disappointed, because if a student comes to you and says, ‘I need to talk to someone,’ they shouldn’t be pushed away. I think that’s really dangerous,” she said.

Andreski will have her first appointment Monday. She left campus for one week in early September, but has called into the center for three weeks to check if appointments opened up.

Levine said referrals are “not typically” recommended as an alternative to meeting with a UCC clinician, but it is “not uncommon” for a student to be referred for outside counseling if an initial assessment shows they need long-term help. GW’s counseling center, like those at other universities, is designed for short-term help.

Two counseling offices in the area have seen slight increases in student visitors.

Selina Gross, office manager of the Psychological Group of Washington, said about five more students have requested appointments this year.

Psychiatrist Gerald Perman said he has also seen a handful more GW students come into the center saying they were “unable to conveniently get an appointment with the University’s center.” At his office, students can be seen within days, he said.

One student, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he was never contacted after his initial phone assessment late this summer. He said the counselor who initially reached out to him did not return his calls for weeks.

“I just assumed somebody would call me back. No one ever answered me,” he said.

He finally got an appointment about a month after his first call, after speaking to a case worker at the center.

Levine said he had not heard of students waiting a month for appointments in the past, and added that it was “certainly not something that has happened often.”

The University Counseling Center has seen a slight drop in visitors since the academic year began, with about 450 appointments so far this year academic year. Levine said that figure is slightly lower compared to this time last year.

But in the last two months, UCC staff held nearly 50 information sessions encouraging students to take advantage of the six free appointments the center offers.

The outreach, which started at Colonial Inauguration and ramped up as classes began, is part of GW’s growing focus on mental health services over the last year. The University scrapped fees for individual counseling sessions last fall, leading to a 25 percent spike in new clients.

“Our numbers indicate that students continue to see UCC as a primary resource for care and support during challenging times in their lives and with additional staff on board we are able to provide even more direct service to our students,” Levine said.

The center has also seen an increase in walk-in appointments and first-time visitors compared to this time last year.

The University said in August that it was hiring four full-time staff psychologists and three other staff members this fall. The counseling center’s website lists four full-time counselors.

The center added an assistant director of outreach and programming this year. It has brought on a new full-time director, but Levine said the University is not ready to announce the hire that will replace former director John Dages.

Dages and former associate director Barbara Brown resigned last year, after several UCC employees claimed their poor leadership was driving staffers away from the center.

Chloe Sorvino contributed to this report.

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