College to Career

Counseling and Testing Center: Addressing Wait Times and Other Potential Issues

Time of the school year may be why students are reporting long wait times to access mental health services on campus according to Associate Director of Clinical Services, Mikyta Daugherty. Photo by Chris Young | The Signal

With finals season around the corner, more students are finding their way towards the Atlanta Counseling and Testing Center to meet with counselors and get the help they need.

Students said that they had different experiences in terms of the quality of service given at the center.

The center has had complaints regarding various practices and procedures. One of those complaints had to do with long wait times.

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“It was kind of discouraging seeking help and being told that their wait time for providers was up to three months if not longer, and once the counselor I spoke with noticed I had my own health insurance, they advised me to go to a provider that’s covered within my network,”Reddit user GSUdude said. “[I] don’t want to waste their time, but finding a mental health care provider isn’t as easy or comfortable as just walking into a store and picking out a brand of cereal you like.”

Dr. Mikyta Daugherty, the associate director of clinical services at the center, said that waiting lists are not directly controlled by the center and are often based on other factors.

“All waiting lists are moved by resources, so whether that be how many doctors the place has, how much money the place has to hire the doctors and then you have space. So if this is the only place we can be, it doesn’t matter how many doctors I have. We only have so much space,” Daugherty said.

The waiting lists also vary depending on the time of year. Daugherty said there’s never usually a problem during the summer, which tends to be slow season for the center. But during the last couple of months of each semester, the Counseling center sees an influx of students seeking help.

Another factor affecting student wait times, Daugherty said, are the schedules of students.

“They’ll put on their intake paperwork ‘I’m only available three times,’ but by the time I call and say, ‘Listen you’ll be waiting forever unless you give me more times,’ all of a sudden new times arise,” she said. “So one of the main things is there’s not a lot availability of the students, who are sometimes limited. [The students] forget that this is a large place with a lot of people so you can’t just give one time to be worked in. Every time someone is waiting it makes me nervous. And when you have quite a few people on the waiting list it feels like it’s our responsibility,” Daugherty said.

Rachel, another student who wished to go only by her first name, said she was also concerned about the referral process of the university. Rachel said the university didn’t pay much attention to her referral requests, and sent her exactly where she asked not to go.

“I [said] I didn’t want any faith-based care and would prefer a woman, but the faith-based care was the real deal-breaker. [The counselor] seemed to be receptive to that,” Rachel said. “When I got home, I looked up the doctors [that the center had suggested]. The first was faith-based care. I thought this was really weird, since it was the one thing I didn’t want.”

Daugherty said that there is a system put in place so that students can get referred to the appropriate professional.

“Either the counselor that’s met with the student during their first initial consultation will provide referrals or a counselor that they’ve been working with for a while after they’ve exhausted their number of sessions will provide referrals or we have a social worker, Dr. Webb, who is our client advocate, meets directly with students to provide resources off campus. We have a database of over 200 providers we touch base with, but we always give at least three referrals,” Daugherty said.

When it comes to moving to an outside counselor, Daugherty said that most of the time insurance plays a role in who a student gets referred to. Usually the low-cost or free counseling sessions are provided primarily by faith-based organizations and that’s what a lot of students inquire about.

While still at the center, Daugherty said they make sure students receive the proper attention and make sure it’s with the right individual. Everyone who is hired now has to be screened by her beforehand.

“As the associate director of clinical services I’m the primary one over hiring the clinicians so I do let the other senior staff have their peeks at the person, but I do primarily the hiring,” Daugherty said. “Everyone is fully licensed. Most of the counselors have some sort of private practice on the side or they work at Emory on the side.”

She said that she had a young couple who were going to be seen by a white male and refused to walk with that counselor and opted instead to meet with her, who they felt more comfortable with. Sometimes students visiting the center will have a preference regarding a counselor’s race or sexual orientation, which Daugherty said she understands and the center tries to address.

This was the case with Sheerica Ware, a Georgia State junior, who said she had no complaints from her counseling center experience.

“I was paired with a counselor who had experience in my specific PTSD issue which was awesome,” she said. “I was actually able to get right on schedule the next week.”

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