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College expands mental health

By Carolin Scholz 

In the fall of the 2010-2011 academic year the Grinnell College Mental Health and Counseling Services will undergo some significant changes. Ceasing collaboration with the Poweshiek County Mental Health Center as the only form of mental health offered to students, the College will acquire its own division of mental health services for students on campus.

Two full-time staff positions are to be created—that of the Lead Psychologist and Director of Student Health and Counseling Services, as well as the Staff Psychologist and Training Coordinator. Additionally, the equivalent of one full time counselor will be contracted, a position that may be split among several psychologists.

“Grinnell is an abnormality among its peers with not having its own mental health and counseling center,” said Joyce Stern ’91, Dean for Academic Support and Advising.

Vice President for Student Affairs Houston Dougharty believes that the College’s students need additional mental health support.

“Our students deserve the best we can give them,” said Dougharty. “That is especially true for mental health. We have a lot of catching up to do.”

In order to “catch up,” Student Affairs decided to form the Student Counseling and Health Transition Advisory Committee. The committee consists of faculty and staff, as well as two student representatives—ACE Chair Mairead O’Grady ’10 and Active Minds participant Chris Hildebrand ’10.

Three additional students will also be involved in the hiring process of the staff members for the new College Mental Health Center. The students on the committee—Charlotte Feddersen ’12, Andrea Leiser ’11 and Colin Wee ’12—are an essential part in the process.

“Student importance has been critical,” Dougharty said. “It makes sure we make the right choices.”
Student participation in the restructuring process shows that the need for an on-campus mental health center definitely exists.

“I am very passionate about mental health,” Leiser said. “I want to help making the center as successful as possible.”

Wee agrees that the permanent psychologist position is a great idea.
“I am interested in implementing the new College Health Services and hope to make it more approachable for students—especially internationals,” Wee said.

Students, staff and faculty have high hopes concerning the new counseling center.

“I am really looking forward to having a colleague in counseling,” Stern said. “Having a mental health care provider as part of the campus community will enable us to reach out to more students and student groups.”

As far as the hiring process for the Lead Psychologist goes, choices have been narrowed down to the top three candidates—Tom Berry, Ph.D., Jesus Aros, Ph.D. and Harriet Dickey-Chasins Ph.D. ’82.

All three candidates for the Lead Psychologist position have visited the campus for an open Q&A session during the past week. The position is expected to be filled as soon as interviews are done, sometime during mid-March.

“We need to get the Lead Psychologist hired, so [that] we can hire the staff psychologist,” Stern said. “We need them to be able to work together.”

Despite having scheduled walk-in counseling sessions on campus, the Health Center seeks to maintain a strong relationship with the Poweshiek Center Mental Health Center for after-hour emergencies, as well as for long-term therapy that some students may be seeking.

“Of course students can still opt to see someone off-campus,” said Stern.

The exact structures of the new mental health center are not laid out yet, as they will depend on who is chosen for Lead Psychologist and Director. Hopefully with these new positions, there will be more options for campus counseling and the College’s atmosphere of stress will be reduced.

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