UWL employee and students discuss Counseling and Testing Center services and fewer clients

Photo+retrieved+from+WXOW.

Photo retrieved from WXOW.

Sophie Byrne, Social Justice Reporter

For students who have little to no prior experience with it, virtual learning can be difficult to navigate, and many struggle to self-motivate and regulate when it comes to homework. In combination with social distancing and a general lack of routine, many people may find themselves experiencing feelings of isolation and disorientation. The beginning of winter may also trigger seasonal depression for many people.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the holiday season can be difficult as well, with increased stress and pressure easily leading to mental overload and burnout. Despite all these factors, the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Counseling and Testing Center (CTC), has been receiving significantly less traffic than in a normal year. The Racquet Press reached out to CTC Assistant Director and senior counselor, Crys Champion, and two students who utilized the CTC’s services this semester to learn more.

Crys Champion, CTC Assistant Director

Registered clinician and CTC senior counselor Dr. Crys Champion discussed with The Racquet Press how the center has transitioned during the pandemic. “Because most of our work is conversation, you can do a lot of it over video,” Champion said. “But it isn’t the same as in person, though. I can’t see if you’re tapping your foot because you’re nervous.”

According to Champion, the only service that the center has had to cut completely as a result of COVID-19 is the relaxation room. Prior to the pandemic, this was a physical room in Centennial Hall where students could go to relax in reclining chairs with low lighting and peaceful music, in a white noise type of environment.

“There are a number of things that we’ve managed to translate to a remote work environment, one of which is group [counseling sessions]. We’ve been really excited about group, and it’s one of the areas where we see almost the same number of students that we used to [prior to COVID-19].”

Crys Champion. Photo retrieved from UWL website. (20)

Champion said that the center is currently seeing fewer students than it typically would. “During the first four weeks of this fall semester, we saw 40% fewer individual, unique clients than we did this time last year.” Champion said that her own personal caseload is about half of what it was in a given week last year.

One of the center’s biggest challenges during the pandemic has been clinical licensing laws. “Our licensing laws say that we can only treat students when they are physically in Wisconsin because that is the state where we are licensed to dispense care. The state of Wisconsin doesn’t care if I, as a clinician, am somewhere completely different. But if a patient decided to run an errand in La Crescent, for example, we would have to have permission from Minnesota to treat them.”

Champion said that during the COVID-19 crisis, Minnesota has agreed to relax licensing rules so long as a clinician can prove they’re licensed in another state and that extenuating circumstances are present.

According to Champion, the CTC is currently staffed at the equivalent of about 10 full-time counselors. “This means that we are right around the minimum recommendation from our accrediting body, IACS [International Accreditation of Counseling Services], of one counselor to every 1,000 students enrolled.”

Champion feels that, due to the pandemic, the CTC’s services are being provided as effectively as they always have, but says that the pandemic has been unprecedented. “I think the pandemic has given us new stresses, ones that no one would have expected, and also decreased access to a lot of the things that we would usually use to relieve that stress.”

Julia Balli, Junior

The Racquet Press Executive Editor and communication studies major Julia Balli accessed the CTC’s program “Let’s Talk” earlier this semester after hearing about it from a friend. “This November was the first time I had ever visited the CTC. I wanted to go in the past, but I always heard that they were way overbooked, and it would take months sometimes to get an individual appointment, so I never went.”

“The sign-up process was quick and easy,” Balli said of scheduling during the pandemic. “It seems like the counselors were less booked than normal as to how fast they could fit me into their schedule.”

Balli attended counseling three times. “The counselor I met with was super nice and made me feel comfortable, but it just felt like it was missing something…I canceled because I just didn’t feel like going anymore, which could have been due to the fact that it was all virtual.”

According to Balli, the CTC’s virtual counseling services are effective enough, but she felt that instructions given to students lacked clarity. “You can get fined if you don’t show up for your appointment, and there are no general links that you can use to join a meeting room. You have to wait until your counselor calls or sends a message on your MyHealth account to come to the meeting, which was not stated anywhere on my appointment schedule or online.”

Balli said that this confusion led to feelings of nervousness. “They would call or send me the link after the meeting time started, so I was nervous that I’d be charged, which I don’t think should be an added stressor.”

Despite her decision to cease counseling, Balli said that she felt the CTC is adapting well. “I ended counseling because I felt that it wasn’t helping me, and it didn’t feel very interactive. This isn’t the CTC’s fault—because we are in the middle of a pandemic, and they are adapting to it pretty well—but it just wasn’t working for me.”

Quinn Lonning, Sophomore

Psychology major Quinn Lonning heard about the CTC through a friend who had utilized its resources, as well as through her sorority, Alpha Phi. “I was a little hesitant, but once I had more clarity about what the CTC did and how it worked, I decided to try it out.”

Lonning said she thought it would be a big deal. “I was scared that it would be really serious, there would be a lot of pressure, or that you had to have a really serious issue when really it was just having someone to talk to,” she said. “I thought it would be a big-time commitment. In reality, it was pretty easy and laidback…I met with them every couple of weeks and talked to someone for about twenty minutes.”

One aspect Lonning appreciated was confidentiality. “You don’t have to share your name if you don’t want to and the therapist doesn’t either. It’s an open space to talk about anything.”

Lonning utilized the center’s resources for about two months and has now signed up for a different program. “If you think you’re dealing with something bigger you really need to figure out or something you didn’t even realize you needed help for, they’ll go and reach out to someone else who’ll further help you.”

According to Lonning, the CTC best serves students who are just beginning their counseling journey. “I don’t think it’s a source I would fully recommend relying on…but it’s definitely a really good starting point. If you haven’t done any sort of counseling before, this is the best place to start.”

Lonning said that she feels the CTC cares about students and wants to help them. “They genuinely do care, and they want to make sure that they’re getting you the right help,” said Lonning. “The CTC doesn’t have to be super permanent. They made it clear from the beginning that they’re really just there to talk to you, figure out what you need, and then potentially link you to another resource.”

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