Here's Why You Should Go To Your School's Counseling Center

Feeling under the weather? Need someone to talk to besides your parents and friends? Think you might have anxiety or depression? Recognizing something is wrong is one thing, but the next step could be going to your school’s counseling center. If you are someone who up until now has never felt the need to seek help with your mental health issues or personal issues, it’s definitely daunting to meet with a professional. That’s why we have provided you with an overview of college counseling centers and what your school can do for you.

1. Centers are equipped to help you 

No issue is too inconsequential or too severe 

College counseling centers were designed specifically for college students. Professionals in these centers are equipped with resources for you, whether you have an issue with your roommate or you believe you might be suffering from anxiety. With that in mind, you should never feel that your problem might not be relevant to what your center has to offer. Typically, every university has a few types of treatments options, varying from support groups to one-on-one sessions with a therapist.

For example, if you attend a large public school like UC Berkeley, Berkeley offers both non-urgent treatment and emergency same-day counseling to address concerns relating to academics, personal growth and career management. Reaching the counseling center to make an appointment is often only a phone call or email away. Berkeley’s counseling center website also helpfully offers an infographic that provides a few signs for depression. If you are not sure whether you have anxiety or depression, it is better to consult someone from your college counseling center rather than trying to self-diagnose.

In contrast to a large public school, a smaller private university such as Wesleyan University offers very similar services through its Counseling and Psychological Services office. Its support groups range from those that are educational and curriculum-based to those that are more informal and student-led. Support groups are a great way to find like-minded people and to learn about common problems students struggle with, from eating disorders to being a victim of sexual assault. It is important to know that you are not alone in coping with your problems. 

Related: “17 College Women Get Real About Depression”

2. Don’t Always Expect Immediate Results

It takes time for therapy to be rewarding

Iris Goldsztajn, a senior at UCLA, visited her school’s counseling center after she realized her dieting habits had turned into an unhealthy obsession with her body image. “I had three one-on-one counseling sessions and it was weird, but I’d been told how helpful they were,” she says. “ I was skeptical at first and it only made me more confused about my problem, but by the third session, I felt so much better!” 

During her therapy sessions, Iris says that her therapist emphasized how important it was to take a break from labeling her thoughts and self-judging. “It took some more time after that to really get over my ‘food obsession’ and I’m not quite over it yet but it was really great to have someone talk to me about my problems and help my understand what I was going through was completely natural,” Iris explains. Although her visits to the counseling center didn’t completely resolve her issue with dieting and body image, she found a support system and got on the right track to gaining a healthy perspective.

Related: “Orthorexia: When Being Healthy Becomes an Obsession”

3. Counseling Sessions Can Be Confidential

Your school will respect your privacy

Just as with a private practice, schools will respect your decision to keep anything discussed during your treatment strictly confidential, unless they are faced with suicidal behavior – in which case most professionals are required to report to school authorities. A typical school policy is illustrated through Wesleyan University’s counseling center, which states: “We do not disclose the content of sessions without explicit permission from our therapy clients, except in the cases in which we judge there is imminent risk to our client or other people.” College counseling centers are intended to be safe spaces, so don’t be afraid to share what’s really bothering you.

Along those lines, you should also not be afraid that based on your diagnosis, you will be forced to take medical leave from school. Leaving school because of a mental health issue is not only nothing to be ashamed of to begin with, but it is also completely your choice. 

4. Resources Can Be Limited

Consider whether you are seeking help for a long-term or short-term problem

Centers are coping with increasing class sizes and more students seeking help every year. A 2014 survey by the American College Counseling Association (ACCA) found that the average ratio of students to counselors was 1 to 2081 students, with only 26 percent of college centers expanded their counseling staff. So, there has not been a big enough change in resources to accommodate rising demand. 

As much as college counseling centers make you a priority, remember that they are not designed to be a student’s only mental wellness resource during their college career. A combination of large student bodies and limited staff means that some colleges like Boston University and UMass Dartmouth operate on a short-term model, meaning that students can only see a therapist for one semester before they are referred to off-campus counselors. In the case of UC Berkeley, a student gets a maximum of eight counseling sessions per academic year, with five of them coming at no cost. So during the semester, if you resolve your issue – mental health-related or otherwise – then great. If you are seeking long-term help, your college counseling center may only be able to offer you so many therapy sessions before you are redirected to a private psychiatrist or mental health professional. Be sure to check with your school's counseling center if there are costs associated with being transferred to an external counselor. Some schools, such as San Jose State University, have included a mental health fee into their tuition so even a transfer comes at no cost. Other schools, such as Pepperdine University, offer free counseling but charge a $50 fee if you request to see the school psychiatrist. Reach out to your college to be referred to a private practice or perhaps a peer-to-peer counseling/listening service if your school offers one. Don’t ever feel restricted by limited resources in college centers; they are nevertheless going to do their best to help you.

In the end, it’s impossible to know whether seeing your college counselor will be the solution to your problem – but it can’t hurt, right? Know that it is the center’s job to help you, and even if what you are dealing with is more severe than the center is prepared to treat, your school is the first and closest step to finding a qualified off-campus professional that you can foster a long-term relationship with.