University Counseling Service (UCS) welcomed a new director, Dr. Barry Schreier in summer 2015. We spoke to Barry about his first year at UCS and his plans for the future.
Why did you decide to apply for the director position at UCS?
I was here 23 years ago during my doctoral internship which is a capstone experience for those in Counseling Psychology. I still remember the lessons and ways of thinking about campus mental health I learned during this experience, which I have used across all my years in the field. When the opportunity arose I knew the reputation of UCS and of the people working here, and I wanted to be part of this organization. It feels good to come back to UCS after my 23-year sojourn.
What are some of the mental health needs/issues of college students today?
The needs of today’s students are broad and vast. Within the last five years, anxiety bumped out depression as the number one presenting concern for students. Students are experiencing higher levels and more complex reasons for distress than ever before, and this generation of students often struggles with regulating emotions. At the same time, these are bright and highly motivated individuals. They are utilizing the services provided by UCS and are achieving results fairly quickly.
What programs and services has UCS implemented to meet the overall needs of students or specific student needs?
We have expanded The Embedded Counseling Program, which has increased the footprint of UCS on campus. Embedded counselors serve specific cohorts of students. This isn’t a satellite office; these counselors see only the specific students in the locations in which they are housed. There is a new embedded counselor for the residence halls, housed in the east side residence halls, because we know that first-year students are the least likely to utilize our services. Athletics is another area where we have embedded a counselor. Athletes have very demanding schedules, and it’s not practical for them to take time to visit UCS. The three areas where we currently have counselors, University Housing & Dining, Department of Athletics, and College of Dentistry, front the resources and funding for these counselors. This system is a creative use of funding that university counseling services have not utilized in the past and helps meet the needs of our students.
We piloted a new same day, quick access service this past year. Students can call or walk in for this 30-minute service. There are two types, a quick problem solving session and a crisis session, for students who may be feeling that they are in a crisis right now. This pilot has been a success, and we’ve had many students utilize the service. We decided to pilot this service because a good percentage of the students utilizing UCS were seen one time and that was all they needed. This was a way for us to meet their needs quickly and leave room for students who may need more than one appointment. Looking at our pilot data, four groups utilized the same day service, first-year students, international students, Asian and Asian American students, and men. We plan on looking into why these students are more likely to utilize this service compared to regular UCS appointments.
This past year we also created and implemented Recognition, Insight & Openness (RIO) groups which help students learn emotional regulation skills. There are three sessions and students can join the group at any time. These sessions are for students who need some assistance regulating their emotions, but don’t necessarily need to see a counselor.
UCS has also seen an increase in group therapy options. Group therapy utilizes the fact that students are learning and living in groups here at UI and that many of the issues they seek help with are relational in nature. While students are often hesitant of group therapy at first, it actually ends up being the service of choice for most students. Group therapy also helps UCS serve more students.
The need for the services UCS provides has always been there, and we are trying many different things to meet these needs. We are also focusing on prevention through our various outreach opportunities. The number of students we reached with psychoeducational programs, tabling, and training jumped to 22,894 in 2015-2016. Seeing students for individual or group counseling is actually our secondary mission, our primary mission is to prevent mental health issues by engaging students early.
What are you looking to do in the coming years to continue to meet the needs of students?
When I arrived here, UCS was one of the lowest staffed counseling centers in the Big 10. When I spoke to our constituents I heard the same thing over and over, ‘UCS provides really great service, but it’s hard to get in.’ While we have increased our staff numbers this past year, the problem isn’t solved. We need to continue to advocate for funding and resources to support the level of need and the quality of support the campus is looking for.
We are looking to provide more support on the east side of the river. Plans are underway for an east side location in the University Capitol Centre. Finally, we will be working closely with Student Health & Wellness and other partners to develop a continuum of support services for students in drug or alcohol recovery and students who are non-drinkers.
How does UCS support student success?
We’ve seen through assessment that utilizing UCS’s services helps students academically. We also know that mental health concerns are the number one reason why students leave the university, so we can see the impact UCS and counseling can have on retention.
What should students know about UCS?
Students should know a few things:
- The counseling you can receive at UCS is the least expensive you may ever get.
- You can access counseling in a lot of different ways, individual, group, etc.
- The staff at UCS continually strives to be multiculturally competent.
What should faculty/staff know about UCS?
UCS is also here to support faculty and staff through training. Often these individuals know something is wrong with a student and know what to do, but chip away at their own confidence by talking themselves out of “getting involved”. We are here to teach faculty and staff the skills to feel confident to act.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
The staff members as UCS are some of the kindest, nicest, most thoughtful individuals I know. This is a great place to work and the staff members are committed to serving and supporting students.