July 20, 2019 | 85° F

CAPS streamlines process of meeting with counselor

Photo by Andrew Howard |

University officials cut the ribbon yesterday at the Counseling, Alcohol and Other Drug Assistance Program and Psychiatric Services building opening.

Nearly 4,000 students use Rutgers Counseling, Alcohol Assistance and Psychiatric Service (CAPS) every year.

Of those students, some have voiced concerns about the process of setting up an appointment and long waiting lists. University President Robert L. Barchi told students at a Rutgers University Student Assembly (RUSA) meeting last April that CAPS does not have a large enough staff to handle 66,000 students and that "it seems like a never ending race on a treadmill to keep up."

Jill Richards, director of CAPS, responded to some of these comments.

Rutgers University, she said, is one of the few counseling services in the Big TenTen  no waitlist to set up an appointment and no session limits.

And this year, in response to voiced concerns, CAPS has streamlined the process of meeting with a counselor.

"We have worked incessantly this semester to really streamline our process and to do all that we can to make that process as swift as possible by adding a number of appointments and restructuring our schedules to accommodate (students during) peak times," Richards said.

With the current process, a student contacts CAPS and speaks with a clinician on the phone, then makes an appointment to meet with a clinician in person, which takes less than a week. This is less time than it would take at almost any private practice, said Charity Wilkinson, lead psychologist at CAPS.

The months of October and November are CAPS' busiest months, with peak times mid-spring semester as well. During peak times, Richards said a counselor may spend up to 70 percent of his or her working hours in direct contact with students.

"If the student is having an urgent need to be seen and can't wait for an appointment, we have an on-call provider available Monday through Friday," Wilkinson said.

Last spring, CAPS sent a survey out to students using its services and the results showed students were satisfied with the process overall.

Eighty-one percent of students said the time between calling for an appointment and a provider calling was between one to two business days. Further, 83 percent strongly or somewhat strongly agreed that accessing services at CAPS was easy.

That is not to say that student comments towards CAPS are unfounded or unimportant, Richards said.

"We take every bit of feedback we get from students extraordinarily seriously," Richards said.

While a majority of students were satisfied with CAPS, a small percentage of 7 percent said the time between seeking an appointment and a provider calling was not prompt. Additionally, 15.8 percent said the call was a barrier to being seen by a CAPS clinician.

"I can't say every student that comes to our doors is going to be perfectly satisfied with everything we provide because that is not realistic," Richards said. "But what I can say is that we are doing everything we can to address the most pressing needs in the most carefully thought out, sensitive way."

CAPS maps out a personal plan with every student they have contact with, Richards said.

"We do everything we can to do structured, evidence-based work with our students, which is quite unique across the nation," Richards said.

One myth, Richards said, is that CAPS only provides "short-term care," or care that has an expiration date. But this is not the case.

For instance, a student having a pressing problem with PTSD might be treated over a longer period of time with 12 sessions because they are engaged in evidence-based therapies. Evidence-based therapies include prolonged-exposure therapy, cognitive processing therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy.

"We are not as concerned with how long or short a time period it takes because we're working with the challenge the student is facing," Wilkinson said. "... If a student has PTSD, we are going to talk about PTSD and offer the treatment that really works for PTSD, instead of having a more open-ended conversation that may go on for years."

Last spring, Barchi told students at a RUSA meeting that the University would be hiring more people to work at CAPS.

Richards said this would be helpful.

"One could argue there's an endless need for mental health services, and more support is always useful," Richards said.

Avalon Zoppo

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