Delivering Effective College Mental Health Services

It seems odd, if not incredulous, but too few college counseling practitioners, as well as the upper administrators to whom they report, receive substantial training on how to build a counseling service from the ground up. In most mental health and higher education training programs there may be an overview of the business and financial aspects of practice, but even this is often cursory at best, due to the necessary constraints posed by a curriculum. Less available is information concerning profoundly important details of service construction. From what paradigm should the center operate? What type of model will guide the day-to-day operations of the center? What options exist regarding service paradigms and models? How should the center be oriented in order to match a specific campus culture and the needs of its students? What does such an orientation have to say about the rising demand for services? What are the strengths and limitations of this orientation?

These issues are profound in their importance because all the work that is done with developing adults will flow from these details. They affect how we see, define, and approach the advancement of their wellbeing, thus potentially affecting the rest of their lives. Due to their strong sense of caring, work ethic, and professional obligations counseling personnel and others provide competent and effective responses to student needs every day. In my new book, Delivering Effective College Mental Health Services (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019), my over-arching goals include making that work somewhat easier for them, providing a means to achieve philosophical consistency in all the various aspects of center operations, and giving them a template from which to launch discussions and assert center needs on campus.

There are other goals for the book as well. In Delivering Effective College Mental Health Services, I attempt to provide some answers to the questions posed above. The book is a roadmap for the construction or retooling process that campuses may undertake. I hope to provide alternative points-of-view concerning the philosophical approach or orientation of the center. Too often, a campus may make such choices by default or under time, economic, or even political pressures, which can siphon off the energy it takes to build a house of healing. Student populations today are very diverse, and so are their needs, so every counseling service needs a range of options as to how they may go about addressing those needs.

In addition to material on paradigms and models, and how to identify conflict among them, the book’s sections take up other relevant topics, such as how one may evaluate a specific campus for its best paradigm and model matches. There is coverage on developing an accurate picture of students and their mental health needs, as both media and even professional literature often portray them as fragile and sick (which actually originates from the viewpoint of a particular paradigm). Developmental and social factors fueling the clinical picture of college students are also presented, an alternative, “behind-the-scenes” view of their needs. Speaking to potential outcomes of a mismatch between paradigm, model, and campus culture or needs, various illustrations of student stories are included in order to humanize the issues and dynamics involved. Consultation and outreach, or prevention education, services are given specific attention as crucial aspects of services provided by mental health professionals in higher education. Finally, a roadmap for the construction process itself is outlined in order to provide practical steps for what can remain confusing or abstract if we are not careful.

Due to the usual exigencies campus life, time for planning and extended dialog is sometimes curtailed by other realities that also need attention. Because developing young adults is central to the educational mission, and because their development is infinitely complicated yet crucial for our future, I urge caution and thoughtfulness in the process of service creation. It is my hope that college counseling and administrative professionals will find this book useful in that work.

Lee Keyes is the executive director of the Counseling Center at the University of Alabama. He is a past president of the International Association of Counseling Services, Inc. Keyes is the author of Delivering Effective College Mental Health Services.

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