Katelynn Singleton, Campus Carrier deputy news editor
For most of the 2020-21 school year, Berry has offered teletherapy via Virtual Care Group, an online health service, in addition to the on-campus Counseling Center. The service allows for students to have increased access to mental health professionals. While it’s difficult to compare numbers to previous years, there has been an increase in students utilizing both services.
Teletherapy is a free online mental health service that Berry has started offering to students starting last September using the Virtual Care Group as a resource. Students can log in using their student ID number and email and talk to a mental health professional on the phone or on a video call. The service has over 40 providers with a variety of specialties that the therapists on campus might not have. Students can sign up for an appointment at any time and can schedule appointments in the evenings or on weekends. Michael McElveen, the assistant dean of student wellness, said that a benefit is student’s ability to use the service during breaks, which multiple students seem to have done according to McElveen.
McElveen said that it has been difficult to compare the numbers of students who are reaching out and utilizing Berry’s services to previous years due to teletherapy. While the Counseling Center can’t see who exactly went to appointments, Virtual Care Group does send a monthly report detailing the number of registrations and appointments. So far, over 290 students have registered an account through Virtual Care. Terri Cordle, the associate director of counseling, said that there were 75 appointments made in February, which would be equivalent to a full-time therapist’s workload.
One of the difficulties that the Counseling Center has faced is when students put a different name other than the one on their Student ID when registering for an account. Virtual Care uses the name printed on the Student ID, so issues arise when students put in a preferred name or nickname instead of a legal one. McElveen said that these issues are quick fixes, and the students can use teletherapy shortly after the problem is resolved.
“It’s an evolving thing that we’re continuing to look at, from my lens it’s ‘how do we make sure that we’re improving students accessibility to it and the experience they have once they do access it,’” McElveen said.
More students have been utilizing the mental health services available to them, whether through the Counseling Center or teletherapy. Cordle said that part of the reason might be the destigmatization of reaching out for help. While previously frowned upon and looked at as a sign of weakness, more people are going to therapists than before. Cordle also said that the turmoil of the past year has been difficult for a lot of people. The pandemic has increased levels of stress, grief, isolation and loneliness. This summer, the racial and social issues on top of wildfires, tornadoes and hurricanes led to uncertainty and a sense of being out of control.
“Whether you were struggling before, or even if you’ve not, it just makes things even heavier and harder to deal with,” Cordle said.
On Feb 14, the Wellness Weekly email included a survey from the Counseling Center asking students who have used teletherapy to understand issues or things that students like about the service.
Today and tomorrow, the Counseling Center will move from the Hoge building back to the Ladd Center. The Counseling Center is normally in Ladd, but due to the Health Center needing more space because of COVID, counseling moved to the Hoge building. Counselors will not be meeting with students at that time due to the move, as the center has been holding sessions online. If an emergency occurs, the campus police and the Dean of Students office will still be available.