SUBMISSION: When Does CAPS help? Most of the Time

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By Gary Dunn, Ph.D. CAPS Director

I would like to thank Grace Shefcik for her thoughtful piece about possible areas for improvement in our Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) program. It is indeed a challenging task to meet the mental health needs of our 18,000 students, but that is the task of the dedicated and committed mental health professionals who make up our CAPS staff.

I entitled this response, “When does CAPS help? Most of the Time,” to reflect the feedback we receive on a quarterly basis from students who utilize our services. Ninety-seven percent of respondents view CAPS as a necessary service for our university. Eighty-eight percent were satisfied with their counseling experience and eighty-nine percent would recommend their counselor to a friend.

So far this year, we have seen 2,750 different students. We know there is a message out on campus that it takes a long time to get into CAPS, but in fact the average wait time for an individual assessment this year is 4.3 days and the average wait for an initial phone appointment (our first point of contact) is 1.5 days.  It is a fact we know all too well that many of our students experience thoughts of suicide. In order to see students quickly who may be at risk, we developed a system that allows us to quickly assess a student requesting help. We provide urgent assessments (within a day or two) to students who require one, and our walk-in crisis service (same-day) has evaluated over 500 students this year.  

Our current staff to student ratio is about 1:1,100, which surpasses the IACS recommendation of 1:1,500.  And this does not include our doctoral interns and post-doctoral fellows, who add significantly to the energy and vitality of our staff, as well as to staff diversity.  Concerning diversity, the students who present to CAPS closely mirror the campus as a whole regarding most demographics. We do see a higher percentage of women than men.  We recognize that people prefer to work with counselors with whom they can identify and who have expertise working with special populations. We are recruiting for an additional multicultural-focused staff and a staff member with a specialty working with African American students. We also have added a second position focused on working with Chicanx/Latinx students.  Diversity and multiculturalism are core values within CAPS, and it is important for all of our therapists to provide multiculturally competent services for the diverse UCSC student body.  Additionally, we have made significant efforts throughout the Student Health Center to address the needs of the trans* community, including changing our electronic health record to allow us to see a student’s preferred name and pronouns, frequent trainings in this area and decreasing the hurdles involved with trans* students getting the medical care they need.  

It is our goal at CAPS to provide multiple points of access so that all students in need can connect to our services. These include, in addition to traditional individual, group and psychiatric therapy services, no documentation “drop-in” options like Let’s Talk, online services like WellTrack, various psychosocial groups and workshops and peer-led psychoeducational programs like Stress Less.  We also have placed a CAPS therapist in primary care for students who are more comfortable accessing services through their primary care physician and we have hired an additional case manager to assist students experiencing both medical and mental health concerns.

As students’ needs evolve, we will continue to critically evaluate our services and make changes as indicated. Along these lines, feedback from our Student Advisory Board, student groups like Active Minds, periodic campus climate surveys, our quarterly Satisfaction Surveys and direct feedback from students like Ms. Shefcik is invaluable in ensuring we continue to provide the highest level of service possible to the students of UC Santa Cruz.