Berry expands virtual counseling options

Annie Deitz, Campus Carrier managing editor

Last week, Berry launched student access to expanded virtual counseling in partnership with the Virtual Care Group. Through this partnership, students will be able to receive counseling sessions outside of the college’s Counseling Center at no cost.

The Virtual Care Group is an organization that provides virtual health and mental wellness services to students. According to Michael McElveen, assistant dean of student wellness, the Virtual Care Group currently works with over 100 colleges and universities across the country. With their 24/7 customer support service, McElveen explains that they can help students schedule counseling services at any time of day, and often they can schedule those appointments within 24-48 hours.

“Therapists are available for video or phone consultations,” McElveen said. “So that’s the availability for video appointments, it’s from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. during the day. Then at any time of day you can log in and schedule an appointment. The counselors have plenty of availability, so basically you can have an appointment within 24 to 48 hours with the therapist.”

As McElveen further explains, the Virtual Care Group has a long list of licensed, professional therapists that students can choose to meet with. The variety also gives students the opportunity to find a professional most suited to fit their needs and preferences.

“What’s cool about from a user standpoint, so from a student’s standpoint, they can actually see the therapists that are available and read about them,” McElveen said. “They can read a little bio and see who may be the best fit for them.”

As Teresa Czekalla, Counseling Center office manager, stated, as well, the Virtual Care Group provides students access to 3,000 licensed counselors. The Berry Counseling Center currently only has two counselors on staff, so the extra numbers can provide more support.

“Sometimes students will have to wait a week or so, or even more if it doesn’t fit into their schedule, to get an appointment here,” Czekalla said. “Especially now that we’re down to two counselors, having so many more people to make appointments with can help students get help sooner, and when it works for them.” 

Currently, Berry’s partnership with the Virtual Care Group is on a four-month trial. According to McElveen, after the four months expire, the school will continue to reevaluate the program and continue on monthly extensions. The trial started last week, and as such will last through January. Because of this, students will have access to these tele-counseling services over winter break. 

“During our winter break this year it will be available,” McElveen said. “And that’s something that I’m interested to see utilization of, that’s a new resource for students.”

Berry counseling services will receive a report from the Virtual Care Group containing user information. According to McElveen, while Berry will not be able to know exactly who is using the service, they will receive aggregate data about the general levels of usage.

After the college ended in-person classes last March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Counseling Center began offering virtual counseling sessions for students to continue these services while at home. According to McElveen, students took advantage of these options. This precedent encouraged the partnership with the Virtual Care Group. 

“It was so great for our counseling center staff to respond to virtual needs in such a fast way,” McElveen said. “And then on the same side, students responded. They said, ‘hey, I still want to utilize this service.’ This helped us know that people would keep taking advantage of these types of resources.”

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this year the United States has seen extended usage of mental health resources. With the extra stress associated with living in a pandemic, far more people have sought mental health assistance. As McElveen explains, this could be true at Berry as well. 

“Nationally, I think that we are seeing that when you add in the aspects of loneliness in quarantine, and then just the uncertainties around COVID, people need more help,” McElveen said. “Then when you add things that students worry about, like how this will affect school and how does this affect my relationships, we can see that in college counseling needs as well.”

Terri Cordle, Associate Director of Counseling, explains that students can access the Virtual Care Group through a link sent out in an email from the dean of student’s office on Sept. 24, as well as through the link on the Berry Counseling Center Webpage. Once on the site, students will have to create an account using their name, student ID and student email.

Cordle points out that students who have issues accessing the site can reach out to the Virtual Care Group Customer Care by calling (888) 291-0315. They can aid students by answering questions or working to solve technical issues. 

Czekalla urges all students to take advantage of this new opportunity.

“I really think that all students should look into obtaining this resource,” Czekalla said. “College can be a turbulent time, especially now, and we at the Counseling Center might not always be able to schedule an appointment when it’s needed.”

McElveen reiterates Czekalla’s sentiments, explaining that the opportunity is so great in part because it is free for students. 

“I just want to encourage students to take advantage of this great resource,” McElveen said. “You know, it’s covered. Every full time undergraduate student has access to it. So take advantage of it.”

Students can still schedule appointments with Berry’s counselors, and can do so by calling their office at (706) 236-2259.

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