Print This Issue

Council Meeting Coverage

January 31, 2012, Volume 58, No. 20

At last Wednesday's University Council meeting, Dr. William Alexander, director of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) gave a presentation on CAPS' services for Penn students. Dr. Alexander noted some current trends in college counseling centers across the country: increasing numbers of students utilizing campus mental health resources; increasing numbers of students admitted to college with previously identified mental health concerns; increasing frequency of severe mental health diagnoses among students; and a lowered stigma to seeking help for mental health.

Dr. Alexander became director of CAPS in 2009 (Almanac March 17, 2009). He said CAPS' mission is to foster personal growth and help students learn to manage and cope by offering clinical prevention and intervention, consultation and collaboration and training and supervision with attention to issues of diversity and multiculturalism.

CAPS offers clinical services to all Penn students and collaborative services to Penn faculty and staff who are dealing with systemic problems with students in classes or in laboratories. CAPS also provides referral services to alumni and families across the country and the world.

In the past decade, CAPS has had an increase in staff to accommodate the increase in the numbers of students and the numbers of contacts with them. According to Dr. Alexander, the trends show a steady increase in the number of counseling sessions, from 18,533 in FY'05 to 29,983 in FY'11, while there has been a decrease in the number of crisis management contacts, from 2,215 in FY'05 to 1,203 in FY'11. The percentage of the student population served by CAPS has gone from 10% in FY'05 to 13% in FY'11, while at other Ivies the percentage is nearly 18%.

Dr. Alexander said that CAPS is not a short-term treatment center by policy, but the majority of students in individual counseling typically are seen less than six times per year. He said that students' perceived problems at intake are usually expressed as academic and career issues, depression and stress, followed by social relationships, and diet/weight issues. According to the Zung depression screening test that CAPS administers to all students who are seen there, there has been a rise in the moderate to marked depression range as well as the severe to extreme depression range over the past decade.

CAPS has a training program for professionals who in turn provide about 23% of the direct service. There is also a liaison system with numerous offices across the University to help provide an early warning system for those in distress. He mentioned some of the core partners, including Student Intervention Services, Weingarten Learning Resources Center, Student Health Services, UPPD, the College Houses and Schools.
Future goals include more community intervention in collaboration with staff and students, an online training game for stress reduction as well as a research-based primary prevention program to help manage relationships through advanced communication skills. CAPS is hiring a new international specialist to a two-year term to better reach Penn students from other countries. They also collaborate with Career Services for assessing personality and career choices and with the Penn Women's Center to deal with sexual assault on campus.

In response to a question about wait time, Dr. Alexander explained that the current wait is four weeks for routine, non-urgent appointments, however triage is done immediately and students can be seen the same day, between 2-5 p.m., upon request.

Related: University Council Open Forum

Almanac - January 31, 2012, Volume 58, No. 20