Staff Editorial: Counseling Staff Shortage at Lawrence

This term, two members of Lawrence’s counseling staff resigned, leaving the counseling program short-staffed. To compensate, Lawrence has contracted with a national crisis call service in addition to maintaining regular walk-in hours for urgent concerns, and has put in place plans to hire short-term counselors for the remainder of spring term. While more urgent cases may be attended to with these features, students who need frequent appointments with a trusted counselor are left in the dust. We are lucky to have such a valuable service available to us for free, but students are often left feeling helpless due to high counselor turnover rates and sparse appointment availability.

Lawrence University prides itself on its focus on self-care and mental health. Students here are provided tools to maintain their mental health such as counseling services, the CORE program, biofeedback technique sessions and other wellness programs. However, Lawrence is a notably stressful and demanding school which can sometimes be detrimental to students’ health. Many students look to their Resident Life Advisors and CORE leaders for help, but peer support can only go so far. For many issues, professional advising is essential. Twenty-five percent of Lawrence’s student body takes advantage of the offered counseling services to handle these issues. However, when a counselor leaves, the students they had been counseling lose the valuable relationship they had built together, as well as much of the progress they had made. This requires the student to spend time and energy adjusting to a new counselor, which can be detrimental to the healing process. Additionally, new counselors might take on fewer students as they acclimate to their new job, leading to less availability. Under the current conditions, the counseling staff is not able to fulfill their goal of meeting the psychological needs of the students.

If consistently staffing counselors is imperative to meeting students’ psychological needs, why do counselors keep leaving? Managing a large clientele for modest pay is not the most desirable job in the world and such a hefty workload can cause a lot of stress and low morale. Counselors might simply work for Lawrence temporarily until they can find a better paying job elsewhere.

In order to meet the needs of the student body, Lawrence must improve the quality of care at counseling services. Lawrence stands above many other schools in that we have multiple counselors and look to hire counselors equipped to work with distinct individuals, such as LGBTQ+ and international students. In response to the increasing needs of counseling services, the administration is in the process of assembling a task force including administrators, faculty and students to address wellness issues on campus. They plan to explore the problem’s causes and take action to reduce stress on campus by discussions over the summer and implement changes as soon as possible. We acknowledge these efforts are in the works; however, more immediate changes and special attention to mental health issues and counseling are much needed.

One clear way to reduce stress on campus is to provide students access to consistent care, such as long term counselors. To ensure the longevity of a counselor’s position, Lawrence should look for people who are likely to hold long-term positions when hiring new counselors. It would also be worthwhile to increase the general salary of the counselors as an incentive. Trust between counselors and their patients is valuable and should be treated as such. As an institution that emphasizes self-care, Lawrence must fulfill its responsibility to students to hire more counselors to shoulder the load.