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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

PCC offers new services and counselors

Published: October 3, 2014
Section: News

The Psychological Counseling Center at Brandeis (also referred to as the PCC or Mailman) has recently undergone a series of progressive changes, including hiring multiple new staff members and creating new group programs. Mailman is the physical building that houses the PCC.

“[These group programs have] been created through a collaboration of all the PCC staff to better address the needs of the Brandeis students. Groups are often the most effective method to treat the types of concerns that university students face and have been found to be more enriching for some people than individual therapy,” stated Joy von Steiger, senior associate director and clinical director of the PCC.

To better address the needs of the student body, six psychologists and social workers have come on to work as clinical staff at the center, while enrollment begins for six new group and meditation classes. The new offerings include a “DBT Group: Gaining Control over Out-of-Control Emotions,” a “Living in Eating Disorder Recovery Group” and a “Drop-in Meditation in the Peace Room.”

“Groups offer the opportunity to learn about yourself from listening to others, help you think about things in a new way, learn about yourself as you notice things you have in common, and as you relate more honestly and directly with others, you learn to be more accepting of yourself. Groups can also provide an opportunity for interpersonal experimentation,” said von Steiger.

Some groups require meeting with a counselor beforehand, while others are simply drop-in. Either way, one fact remains the same: The services are free. For individual sessions at the PCC, the first 12 visits for each student are not charged. These new group sessions do not use the 12 allotted sessions, and no cost is billed to student insurance.

“I appreciate the services [the PCC] provides the student body, especially the sessions free of charge, since I believe economic barriers are a huge issue in health care access,” said Victoria Aronson ’15, managing editor of The Brandeis Hoot.

In addition to the new group sessions, the PCC has grown in other ways. One great change was the hiring of the new clinical director (von Steiger), according to Michael LaFarr, the executive director of health and wellness at the PCC. LaFarr mentioned further advancements, such as how the PCC “fully implemented a secure electronic medical record which helps clinicians keep better records and speeds the information gathering process for students … We expanded (and continue to) the PCC website to be more user friendly. Our website now includes a brief profile of all therapists.”

The PCC website claims that 20 percent of Brandeis students use the counseling center each year, and indeed many students are satisfied with their services.

“I would and often do recommend the PCC to friends, but I always emphasize the importance of students taking an active and proactive role in their care,” said Nicole Cardona ’15. Some of her personal experiences at the PCC she described as “extremely positive.”

Other students are quick to point out problems with the center. Aronson recalled her frustrations over waiting for an appointment with a PCC counselor. “I believe students should be able to walk in the door and have someone to talk to. If you’re going through a crisis, it might be hard enough to take the initiative to ask for help. Does postponing that conversation for an appointment a week later truly help?” she said.

Another student, Ryn Flaherty ’15, reported feeling unhappy with the counselors at the center. “I went to the PCC with specific needs: PTSD and anxiety. My previous therapist had been doing CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) with me, and I said that when I asked them to match me with a person. I was paired with someone who was only qualified for talk therapy, and told me straight off that she wasn’t qualified to do CBT,” Flaherty said in an interview with The Hoot. He added that the PCC schedules were restrictive and that he ended up seeking help outside of the university. “I stopped going after the first bad match because I had heard such bad things about other PCC therapists that I was afraid to try again. I went a while without any consistent, easy-to-commute-to therapist, but I tried to see my old therapist from high school once a month in person. Eventually I found one in Harvard Square who I now see weekly,” he said.

Cardona argued for more campus-wide awareness about the fact that students can indeed switch counselors. “Many negative or neutral experiences arise from students not feeling comfortable with or connected to their clinicians. While PCC policy encourages students to try new clinicians in cases like these, in practice I think students often do not know this is an option or feel awkward asking to try someone else,” she said.

In regards to scheduling and wait time for appointments, LaFarr said, “Students who come to the PCC asking to be seen are scheduled for an intake appointment within the same week. Most are seen in two to three days. I am unaware of any case of a student not getting an intake appointment within five business days. While the average wait for an intake appointment in the greater community can range from two to six weeks, we are proud to be able to see students in a matter of days.”
Von Steiger stated, “If there are any questions or concerns about the services and delivery of services at the counseling center, please contact me, Dr. von Steiger, directly at 781-736-3782.”

The center has already responded to some student concerns, stated Cardona.

“Last year, student feedback suggested that the PCC needed to be more transparent with how billing works, so Associate Director Dr. Michael LaFarr held a training for staff that addressed this, emphasizing the importance of reminding students when they’ve reached their 11th free session (out of 12 all students are offered annually),” she said.

The PCC also continuously strives to help overcome the stigmas surrounding mental health and counseling every day. “We are pleased that the stigma against counseling seems to be diminishing nationwide,” said LaFarr. “We have record numbers of students coming to the PCC seeking treatment. For those who are concerned about privacy, rest assured we take privacy seriously and follow strict confidentiality laws.”

However, the stigma on campus may still linger. “Overall campuswide opinion of the PCC is very poor,” said Flaherty.