GW Continues to Enhance Counseling

February 26, 2012

University Counseling Center drops group fee and offers more group counseling sessions.

George Washington students can now attend group counseling sessions at the University Counseling Center for free.

The change in fee is part of the recommendations from the UCC Review Committee, which was created by President Steven Knapp and Provost Steven Lerman in December 2011 to conduct a comprehensive review of the center in anticipation of hiring a new director. Previously students were charged $10 per session.

“As we continue to evaluate our services and offer enhancements, this recommendation emerged as one way to continue to extend our reach as we strive to expand support to our students,” said Peter Konwerski, senior associate vice president and dean of students.

The center has scheduled six counseling groups this semester around topics such as personal stress, substance abuse and emotion management.

The review examined the center’s clinical care, educational outreach and operations. Three subcommittees made up of clinicians, faculty, staff and students analyzed the UCC service model based on best practices and reviewed the staffing model, resource allocations, budget implications and training and development strategies. The review concluded that the UCC is providing an array of services that are meeting student needs. The committee also made a number of recommendations to strengthen the UCC, and some of these recommendations have already been implemented.

Group counseling at GW has been rising in popularity. In fall 2011, the demand for group counseling had increased by 150 percent from a year earlier. Seda Sumer-Richards, a UCC psychologist, said group counseling offers students a chance to connect with others that isn’t possible in a one-on-one setting.

“In group counseling, the confidential and safe environment facilitated by trained clinicians serves as a microcosm of our lives and functions as a mechanism of change by giving members the opportunity to examine themselves, observe others and explore their interpersonal dynamics,” said Dr. Sumer-Richards. “This process offers members an opportunity to learn and enhance their interpersonal skills in order to build intimacy, mutuality and fulfilling relationships.”

UCC is offering two interpersonal process groups – one for undergraduates and one for graduate students. These groups are open to students who might be experiencing anxiety, depression or relationship issues. Students will learn how to develop coping strategies when times are stressful and build more rewarding relationships.

Students with family stress including alcoholism, mental illness, divorce or intense conflict can meet in a support group to discuss issues related to trust, control, expression of feelings and self-esteem. Another support group is offered for sexual assault survivors where they can find support from other survivors, explore ways of coping with the aftermath and discuss how their experience impacts current relationships.

UCC is also offering support groups around skill building and learning how to manage overwhelming emotions through greater self-control and achieving healthy choices related to alcohol consumption.

“We’re trying to use group counseling as a primary modality of treatment here. It’s not secondary to one-on-one counseling,” said Dr. Sumer-Richards. “It’s just as effective, if not more, for certain presenting issues. It’s a very rich counseling experience.”

Other recommendations from the UCC Review Committee include assessing student satisfaction with UCC services and evaluating students’ feedback for future improvements. The center will also evaluate at the end of the semester whether students should continue to be offered the six free individual counseling sessions or whether that number should increase.

As a way to allow clinicians to see more students and combat a significant increase in missed appointments since the “six free” pilot was launched in September, students will now be charged a $30 late cancellation fee if they fail to show up for a scheduled appointment or cancel less than 24 hours before the appointment time.

The UCC also plans to develop an advisory council to better integrate the center’s services around the university and foster collaboration, especially with Student Health Services and the Office of the Dean of Students’ CARE Network, a network of university departments that support students’ academic, social or other personal needs.

In addition, the UCC Review Committee recommended expanding the use of social media to reach students and increasing outreach to the university community through GW Active Minds peer educators.

Other recommendations include conducting an annual review of current mental health crisis management policies and procedures, creating a five-year strategic plan and reviewing the existing UCC staffing model including position descriptions, minimum qualifications, recruitment and transition processes. UCC will also continue to work with the Division of Human Resources on staff development opportunities and explore the International Association of Counseling Services’ standards and accreditation process.

Dr. Konwerski said the university will continue to periodically review UCC operations and make any necessary adjustments.

“This not a static process,” he said. “We want to continue to provide our students with the access to quality counseling services and programs they deserve.”