By Alex Batterman
I wish to contribute to the current debate over the TCNJ Clinic’s closure by providing my own personal experiences as an undergraduate intern at the Clinic. I will preface this by mentioning how choosing to attend the College has been one of the best decisions I have ever made, as it has enabled me to thrive with the small class sizes, knowledgeable professors, and an abundance of research and internship opportunities offered. This said, my internship at the TCNJ Clinic has been one of the greatest opportunities offered to me by the College and its closure would prevent students from gaining the same experiences and insights in the future.
Some of my responsibilities during my internship at the Clinic involved screening attendees of the Mercer County Intoxicated Driver Resource Center and facilitating Self-Management and Recovery Training meetings. I am fortunate to have gained such valuable clinical experience as an undergraduate student, which has certainly benefitted my professional development.
As a SMART Recovery facilitator, I helped run self-empowerment-based recovery meetings for individuals seeking abstinence from their addictions. SMART Recovery has evolved tremendously at the Clinic. Attendance at the meetings started with two people and grew to 20 individuals. Meetings have been taking place every Thursday night and became popular with returning members, taking on more of a family atmosphere. A man suffering from alcohol addiction said the group is close-knit and provides an alternative to the more prevalent and traditional support programs which he found intimidating.
All treatment programs have their advantages and disadvantages, but many individuals have gravitated toward the Clinic’s SMART Recovery meetings due to the program’s emphasis on self-empowerment, intellectual discussion and extensive use of scientific research. SMART Recovery employs an approach that differs from traditional twelve step programs, which another attendee agreed does not work for everyone.
The SMART Recovery meetings offered by the TCNJ Clinic are the only ones available to the public in the areas of Trenton and Ewing, N.J. A Ewing resident who suffers from food addiction stressed how the Clinic is very valuable to the recovery community and how its offering of SMART meetings has made the College seem progressive and ahead of the game. She then mentioned how the Clinic’s closure would represent a huge step backwards.
Everyone understands that in order to run an institution such as the TCNJ Clinic, there needs to be funds. The College has also made it clear in an email to students addressing the Clinic’s closure that there is a need for additional access to mental health resources. Many members of our student body and local communities agree with this specific point very strongly, and feel that simply replacing the TCNJ Clinic with another facility is not enough. While the walk-in clinic opening in Campus Town, which will be called InFocus Urgent Care, may save the College money, it will not benefit everyone in the long-run, particularly financially-strapped families that would be getting priced out.
The Clinic has distinct advantages such as tremendous opportunities for students to gain professional experience, SMART Recovery meetings and a sliding scale means of payment for community members. Closing the TCNJ Clinic would represent a significant step backwards from the College’s goal of serving the student community as well as providing effective community engagement. I strongly encourage the administration to reconsider its decision to close the TCNJ Clinic. Reversing its decision would send a strong message to students and members of local communities by letting them know that their voice and their mental health are highly valued.