When Seattle University junior Annie Nienow-Birch needed help from Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) on campus during winter quarter, she had to wait. The first available appointment wasn’t until after spring break.
According to Nienow-Birch, the small staff and limited funds of the CAPS office are not always enough to accommodate students.
She isn’t the only one who feels that way.
Samantha Marshall, a sophomore representative on Student Government for Seattle University (SGSU), has received similar comments about the student counseling service—enough to get her moving on finding a solution.
“I was receiving student complaints regarding their availability,” Marshall said. “There is a miscommunication between the students and their office that has brought on some tension. I decided to take this on as one of my projects and brought forth some questions based on the complaints.”
These questions included why the office only schedules appointments in a two-week period, how students go about scheduling appointments, and why it has been difficult to accommodate the student body.
Currently, to schedule an appointment, students can stop by the CAPS office or call in. However, the office only schedules within a two-week period because once a student is enrolled, that student may receive up to 10 sessions, receiving priority over students who are trying to get a first appointment.
With only six doctors available, the schedule gets booked fairly quickly. But Nienow-Birch was concerned about what happens when students need help suddenly.
“It pissed me off because we market CAPS as super available and an accessible resource, but when I needed it, it wasn’t there,” Nienow-Birch said.
The CAPS office does offer emergency hours. If a student cannot schedule an appointment, there are designated times for students to come in if they feel that they are in an emergency situation and need to talk to someone. These hours, however, are also limited, and an emergency can mean different things to different people.
“I don’t know if my situation qualifies as an emergency,” Nienow-Birch said. “I do not feel comfortable taking those hours away from someone who needs them. Emergency is such a broad term.”
CAPS declined The Spectator’s requests for comment, but the counseling office appears to be taking a few steps to help improve their availability. They have hired a new full-time staff member and will begin scheduling appointments within a three-week period rather than two.
The office also offers off-campus referrals to other counselors to help students find help.
“From what I have heard, they are great,” Nienow-Birch said. “They are doing all that they can with what they have.”
To Nienow-Birch, it is not the office’s fault, but rather part of a larger system. She said that there is a lack of transparency surrounding these kinds of programs. Having experienced a disconnect between what is said to be there and what is actually there, Nienow-Birch hopes other students can gain awareness.
“SGSU has done a great job trying to be transparent about things. Everyone needs to keep their eyes open to what is being said and what is going on,” Nienow-Birch said. “There is a gap and that makes me angry. I feel like I’m getting ripped off.”
For now, SGSU is working to continue the conversation between students and CAPS to facilitate more positive interactions while also keeping in mind the offices’ limited resources.
“I can advocate funding but I am also creating an informative video that will help inform students and close the gap between them and the office,” Marshall said. “It will help make sure that there is a positive relationship. Students should have a good relationship with their office because they do great things for us.”