CAPS should offer long-term counseling

By Kelly Corbett

It’s 10 minutes into class and nothing makes sense. You’re tired and unable to concentrate, yet proud of yourself for even getting out of bed. It’s been a rough week.

Maybe you’ve eaten an uncomfortable amount or barely eaten at all. Maybe your anxiety is spiraling out of control over an upcoming exam or your head is clouded with dark thoughts. Something isn’t right and you’re in need of help. Where can you turn?

Last semester, I wrote a piece for The Signal titled “CAPS turns down some students in need” that detailed my struggle with binge eating disorder and depression, and how professionals at Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) could not offer me help in their office.

CAPS’s office is located inside Eickhoff Hall. (Craig Dietel / opinions Editor)
CAPS’s office is located inside Eickhoff Hall. (Craig Dietel / opinions Editor)

The staff at CAPS told me I required an extensive treatment program, but CAPS is a short-term treatment facility. I was denied counseling and told to look off campus for help, where I’d have to pay for sessions. When I said I didn’t have a car on campus, they suggested I rent one. When I told them I have class everyday and am heavily involved on campus, which leaves me little time to travel to therapy, they made me feel like I wasn’t making an effort to get better.

CAPS could not let me join its “Food, Mood and You” support group because I was not yet in a long-term treatment program, and they were afraid some of the language might be triggering to me.

While my depression was eased by antidepressants prescribed by my doctor at home, it didn’t mean I was completely off the spectrum. Still, I was given no help from the College.

It killed me to know that a group of licensed counseling psychologists sat cozily in room 107 of Eickhoff Hall while I sat in my Townhouse South bed, red-eyed and hopeless.

After publishing my article, though, comments on my Facebook and The Signal website hinted that I wasn’t the only student who felt toyed with by CAPS.

To every student, administrator or CAPS employee reading this: please don’t think I’m overreacting. Please don’t frame me as a monster trying to dump on the campus’ mental health facility. I’m sure CAPS has brought light back into many students’ lives. I just don’t think it’s doing enough.

CAPS offers on-campus counseling services to students. (Craig Dietel / Opinions Editor)
CAPS offers on-campus counseling services to students. (Craig Dietel / Opinions Editor)

Since I started at the College in Fall 2013, three students have died by suicide. Two of them would have graduated with me this May, and the third would have graduated in 2018. A school this small shouldn’t boast statistics like this. How many more tragedies have to occur at the College for CAPS to get the memo that mental health is extremely important?

It was incredibly difficult for me to tell a counseling psychologist that I have an eating disorder — that I felt as if I had lost control of something as simple as eating and that I have to take antidepressants every morning just so I could get through the day.

There is a place on campus that could have helped me, but didn’t. I tried to make use of one of the facilities on campus that is included in the Student Service Fee students pay each year, but couldn’t.

After my article was published, a CAPS counseling psychologist emailed me and asked if I wanted to come in to discuss it. While she was sorry about my situation, she also said CAPS didn’t find the tone in which I had written my article very “friendly,” and felt that I had written about them in a negative light. She believed I was discouraging students from seeking help at CAPS, which was never my intention.

I wrote the article because I wanted to point out the fact that the mental health facility, the establishment that has been praised as the one place students can turn to in desperate times — I’ve been hearing this since I stepped foot on campus — did not do its job adequately.

We discussed everything I had written in my article and she asked me if I understood why I didn’t receive treatment. I did — I needed longer term treatment than what they could provide me at the College.

As optimistic as I was, I knew I couldn’t make a full recovery in just a couple of months. I finally asked the counseling psychologist what classifies as “short-term treatment.” She said it is something that can be settled in five or six weeks.

I thought of what could bother a student for five or six weeks: a bad breakup or difficulties in a class. You can be upset for five or six weeks and get better, but tackling a mental health issue in five or six weeks seems nearly impossible.

If CAPS is going to continue to be a mental health care facility on campus, perhaps long-term treatment programs are something to incorporate. Maybe students never had an opportunity in the first place to fully recover, as once those couple of sessions are over, CAPS will no longer see you unless you’re in place where you could harm someone else or yourself and will suggest that you seek outside treatment but if you don’t, they are not responsible for you.

Many students are dealing with issues that can’t be handled within a few weeks. Not every student has the finances or transportation options available to them to seek outside help.

Forget the term “brief individual counseling,” which is written on caps.tcnj.edu, and remember the goal of CAPS: “Assisting students with personal challenges that interfere with their academic progress.”

Luckily, over the summer, I started seeing a therapist specializing in eating disorders. Even with my family’s health insurance plan, though, I still had to pay a hefty amount out of pocket, but I was grateful my family could afford to finally get me the help that CAPS should have provided.

But I worry for those who can’t afford it.

I worry for others who are silently struggling. I worry about the handful of students who took their own lives since I’ve gotten here. I worry for students who might be pushed just too far back on the CAPS waitlist. I worry.

CAPS’s performance might be attributed to a lack of funding. I think many students would be happier to see more of our tuition dollars put toward our mental health instead of endless construction and renovations. While more modernized buildings are a nice addition, it should not appear to be a priority over students’ wellbeing.

I’ve walked around this campus late at night, alone and sad, and never once did I think the Brower Student Center needed to be remodeled or that the Library needed some new rocks in front of it.

I know I’m not alone in this.

3 Comments on CAPS should offer long-term counseling

  1. Eloquently written and from the heart. Our students do need more than 5 or 6 weeks to resolve personal issues. Campus is their safe place, lets try and keep it that way. It takes all their courage to walk through those doors. Let’s keep them open.

  2. What if the school counseling center let outside counselors to see students long term at school. The student would pay a counseling fee to the counselor. I would be willing to see students one day a week of the school provided me a space to see a student.

  3. I graduated from TCNJ in 2014. I repeatedly sought therapy care. At the time I had a diagnosis of Depression and ADHD, but I would later be diagnosed with Bipolar disorder– one of the many reasons it went undiagnosed was due to lack of adequate care. I went a long time with getting no’s from CAPS. Their recommendation– for me to go off campus– was not possible. I didn’t drive at all, nor did I have the funds to pay the co-pays associated with mental health care off campus. Eventually, it got to a breaking point, where my friends were concerned about me and I joined an Intensive Outpatient Program At Princeton House, which was 4 hours of therapy a day, 3 days a week. I, too, was also involved with campus activities– I had to step down from the executive board of a student organization, and also ask my professors if I could attend a different session of their class or make up a session of their class in order to get the care I need.

    A student who is in the middle of a mental health crisis should not be expected to navigate this on their own. It really is disappointing. And I think that this article hits the nail on the head– so much prevention could happen with a reform on the way TCNJ and CAPS handles its mental health care for students.

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