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Mental health care options available for students at MU

Thursday, July 30, 2009 | 12:29 p.m. CDT; updated 12:38 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 30, 2009

Health services at MU go beyond medical treatment. The university takes a holistic approach to mental health as well as physical health.

David Wallace is a licensed psychologist and director of the MU Counseling Center in Parker Hall. The staff of 11 full-time psychologists offers both psychotherapy and counseling from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

“We don't dispense medicine," Wallace said. "We work on good mental health.”

“It's a process of helping a person come to terms with their problems,” he said. “We get you to look at different options and consider possibilities. We don't tell you what to do. We help you think through choices and make decisions.”

The first step is the initial meeting. Here, the discussion is about what's going on in the student's life. A counselor is assigned who has appropriate skills and experience.

The goal, Wallace said, is to assess — but “often we can help even in the first session.”

A student might be recommended for individual counseling with a short-term focus. These are one-on-one sessions with a counselor and are not intended to last all semester.

Group sessions are also available for students who may have problems dealing with others, Wallace said. These can last for a longer period of time.

“They bring these into the group and can work on them within a controlled environment under guidance. We put a lot of stock in groups.”

Couples sessions are for those who want help addressing relationship concerns.

Besides these options, the center runs outreach programs. There are presentations on stress management and help in the residence halls for difficult situations such as student death.

Counselors also work with organizations such as Active Minds to promote good mental health and provide support for events. At the Men Speak Out Against Sexual Violence event, Wallace presented and staff was on hand if anyone needed support.

There is no cost for any of these services. Each student pays approximately $6 as part of the activity fees, which fund the center.

“Everybody pays, so everyone has access,” Wallace said.

The Student Health Center also offers counseling. According to Wallace, the service is essentially the same. Both are available and accessible to all students.

“Students have a choice about which they want to use. The difference is that at the S.H.C., it's a medical environment. They are trained the same way but have some specific programs that we don't.

"Often it comes down to which is closer because we're on opposite sides of the campus,” Wallace said.

The pre-paid health fee includes eight visits to a counselor; beyond that, a student must pay for the service.

The most common difficulty freshmen have is adjusting to the shift from high school to college, Wallace said.

“This is going to be a big change. College is the cream of the crop, so the competition is much more intense. It can cause depression, anguish and stress.

“This is also a time to meet new people. It can be fun but it can also be challenging," he said. 

Seventy-five percent of concerns usually involve relationships. Students need to develop a support system, Wallace said, "and we can help.”

“Freshmen get to college and might question why they are here. Family puts you in college and then you're not sure you want to be.

"We don't push you into anything — just talk and help you think about what you want. People can feel trapped and we try to liberate them.”

Wallace offered advice on the proper time to seek help: “Don't wait till things get really difficult. People think they should be able to handle it so they wait and wait. I encourage you to come early.  

"We aren't just here for when things have gone bad. If you have high stress levels, your stomach feels like it's in a knot and you can't get out of bed," he said.

"Come when things feel like they aren't right. I'm amazed by what we can do early on.”

Counselors do not prescribe drugs; they help students discover their needs and find new options, Wallace said.

"It's about empowerment.”


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