Everyone’s favorite question about the Counseling Center at Purchase is, “How many sessions can I have?” says its Director, Dr. Cathie Chester. Students can see, from the Center’s page on Purchase’s website, that it has a short-term therapy model and relies on group therapy to provide students with longer-term care. It can be overwhelming coming to college and not knowing where to start when it comes to accessing these resources on campus, so I gave Dr. Chester a call to give you the answers I’m guessing she also gets calls about, including “everyone’s favorite question.”
HC Purchase: What does short term individual therapy mean?
Dr. Chester: It means you are limited to 10-15 sessions. We have a very one-on-one interactive process for finding out what students’ needs are and what their goals are. If someone came in and, for example, was really distressed about family divorce, it may look like they need weekly support for a long time. They may, however, make a really good group of friends to go to for help, and we may only end up working with them for seven sessions.
If it’s very clear that we don’t have what someone needs, we’re not going to keep them hanging around by offering them therapy and depriving them of the treatment they need. Short term therapy, for example, won’t cut it for someone whose obsessive-compulsive disorder was set off very badly and needs exposure and response prevention treatment. This doesn’t mean that this person couldn’t walk through the door again after finding a private provider. If this person has a crisis, they could see us for a crisis appointment.
HC Purchase: How does scheduling appointments work?
Dr. Chester: We have something called a single-session therapy model, because we find that a third of students only want to come in one time for something burning they wanted to talk about. We don’t presume everyone wants ongoing therapy, so we ask people if we can contact them in two weeks to see if their issues are resolved or if they want to schedule another appointment. We want people to know that we’re here.
We have an administrative assistant who works every day, and she can schedule appointments. Calling is best, since it takes time over email to find a time that works. While you’re negotiating over email, somebody else can take the time you are negotiating.
HC Purchase: Is there a limit to how many students can use the Counseling Center?
Dr. Chester: We follow a stepped care model, which means that we take in everybody who wants to come. Unlike a private practice or other agencies, we don’t say that we’re not taking new patients. Last year we had around 970 students come in. If we, say, have 1,300 students come in, we need to figure out how to serve them with the same number of staff. If we’re at capacity, we may tell a student we can offer them a crisis appointment, group therapy or an individual therapy appointment in, say, 10 days.
HC Purchase: What if someone needs immediate care?
Dr. Chester: Some examples of life crises are: if someone lost control of their behavior, had a death in their family, is out of touch with reality, is feeling suicidal, witnessed a trauma or is on medication or changed a medication and is having bad side effects. Someone can make a crisis appointment remotely by calling the counseling center and saying what’s going on and if they need to talk to someone right away.
HC Purchase: What about group therapy?
Dr. Chester: Lots of times people make more progress in groups when it’s really constructive and there are therapists managing it. One group therapy option is a process group, which is generally for people who’ve had a lot of therapy or want to understand how they relate to other people. Process groups meet at the same time every week usually all year long. Then, there’s the kind of groups that are a little more structured, like a seven-week anxiety group. In these groups, people maybe don’t talk in such a free way, but they learn a lot about anxiety and do the work to overcome anxiety symptoms together. We also offer drop-in groups, like the “Finding Your Voice” group that Akeera does about identity and expressive therapies.
People don’t have to make a commitment to come every week. We don’t turn people away if we get a lot of interest in a group; we just form another group. Most of the therapists have at least one process group per semester. Some students keep going with a group into another semester. It’s really for people who need long-term support. Process groups are for people who have had some therapy and are what we call “psych-minded,” which means they know how to regulate themselves and get their needs met. People who have had a lot of therapy can provide a lot of skills for others in the group. We’re lucky we can provide one of our graduate clinicians to be a co-leader with our professional staff, so the ideal process group looks like 1.5 leaders and 10 or fewer students.
HC Purchase: What is Thriving Campus?
Dr. Chester: The link to Thriving Campus can be accessed by clicking the “Referral” button on the right hand menu on the Center’s section of the Purchase College website. You can open up the website and start looking at providers, which is similar to every other kind of referral website, like Psychology Today’s. Thriving Campus is special for us because we can block therapists from the list if we get feedback that they didn’t treat someone right.
Thriving Campus owns the website. They reach out to therapists all over the county to try to get them to list, so students who are home can use the website as well. We try to put different types of people in there, and you can filter by insurance. There are providers who take Medicaid and those who do a sliding scale. When providers add their names to Thriving Campus, we tell them our students need cheaper resources. Identify yourself as a Purchase College student, and they may work with you. Finding a provider can be very frustrating for people, so we offer referral appointments to help students find somebody.
Groups sessions for the the fall semester are now up on the Counseling Center’s website. The Counseling Center is also where Campus Advocacy Service (CAS) can be found, which is where students are encouraged to use as a first step in receiving help and information covering all options involved in incidents of sexual assault, partner violence and/or stalking.