Additional counseling staff to begin in August
By James Peng, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Following widespread student complaints of long wait times for counseling, Dick’s House has selected two additional psychologists and a psychiatrist to join its Counseling and Human Development staff in August, according to CHD Director Mark Reed.
Dick’s House will also replace two psychologists who left the College in the fall and whose positions have been filled by temporary staff members since their departure, Reed said.
The new staff additions are part of Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson’s Wellness Initiative, which seeks to “focus on wellness as a holistic concept,” she said.
“We need to decrease wait times for students who need to see psychologists and counselors,” Johnson said. “This is really about responding to student voices.”
New hires will include psychiatrist Da-Shih Hu, director of the Psychiatric Partial Hospitalization Program at the Geisel School of Medicine, and psychologists Sarah Chang, Arlene Velez-Galan, Nicole Hill and Todd Lindsley.
The additional staff members will address the increase in wait times for counseling appointments that resulted when the Health Services Office downsized, laying off its staff psychiatrist and a psychologist amid College-wide budget cuts in 2008.
While students seeking counseling currently must wait up to 12 business days for an appointment, the new additions will decrease wait times to slightly less than seven business days, Reed said.
The search for the new hires began following an external review process undergone by Dick’s House last spring.
“Some of the main findings of the review were that we provided really good care but the wait time was too long,” Reed said.
The waitlist for appointments is the most prevalent complaint about Dick’s House counseling services, Reed said. Most students are satisfied with the quality of mental health care available, and 80 percent of students indicate that they are “very” or “extremely satisfied” on student surveys, he said.
Reed began the search process to fill the additional positions at the end of Fall term and invited groups of applicants to the College in April to meet with students and faculty, he said.
Hu, who will serve as a staff psychiatrist at Dick’s House, said he looks forward to working with students after dealing mostly with adults in his professional career.
“I think people who work with me see me as young at heart anyway,” Hu said. “I need to think about how best to connect with students and understand more of what the culture is now.”
Hill, who currently occupies a one-year interim position at Dick’s House, said she is excited for the “clinical challenges” of working with a student population full-time.
“Dartmouth students have such unique, diverse backgrounds and present a wide variety of mental health concerns, so I never know who will walk into my office on a given day,” she said in an email to The Dartmouth. “It’s exciting and keeps my clinical skills sharp.”
The College is currently searching for a wellness director to “implement the vision” and monitor the results of the Wellness Initiative, according to Johnson.
“[The wellness director] will look at outcomes,” she said. “This initiative, in addition to taking more of a holistic approach, is about measuring outcomes that we and students care about, like access to health care at Dick’s House and figuring out if we are having a positive impact.”
In addition to increasing access to counseling appointments, Johnson said she wants the improve the quality of care offered at Dick’s House.
“I think there are things we can work on, particularly around cultural competencies,” Johnson said. “I’ve heard students say that is an area that they would like to see us move forward.”
Students interviewed by The Dartmouth said that the staff additions, albeit long overdue, are important steps toward increasing access to mental health care at the College.
“It’s definitely something people have been complaining about for a long time,” Gabrielle Forestier ’14, president of the mental health-focused student groups Active Minds, said. “It’s good to see change actually happen.”
Foriestier said that the long waitlist for appointments can be damaging for those who need immediate help.
“At some point in the fall last year, the waitlist was three weeks,” Forestier said. “That’s kind of ridiculous if someone needs help now.”
Charlotte Cipparone ’12 said that counseling services at the College are often difficult to access.
“There are a lot more students that want access to counseling than what is available,” Cipparone said.
Dick’s House offers 24-hour emergency counseling, short-term counseling and group counseling services. Approximately 18 percent of the student body seeks counseling at Dick’s House every year, Reed said.
Chang declined to comment, and Velez-Galan and Lindsley did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
Staff writer Jennifer Dalecki contributed reporting to this article.