Counseling Center moves to HHB, launches new programs and outreach

Lauren Karmo, Campus Editor

Entering a new school year can already be a challenge, but navigating online and hybrid  learning, a global pandemic and racial justice movements can be taxing on the campus community’s mental health.

The Counseling Center has been monitoring these stressors and plans to help guide students through them with their new group counseling sessions and outreach programs, all from their new location at Suite 2050 in the Human Health Building (HHB). 

According to Counseling Center Director Dr. David Schwartz, the counseling center needed to make the move out of the Graham Health Center in March in order to comply with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Executive Order No. 2020-7, which states only essential health care professionals and patients should be within a health center. Seeing as counseling can be done virtually, the counseling center left Graham and will stay in HHB throughout this academic year. 

“I don’t see it being a permanent [change],” Schwartz said. “There was certainly no indication that that would be from the higher ups, and I would be opposed to that as well because I think it’s very helpful to be in that same building as the health center because we have such a close and good working relationship with them — we share so many of the same clients.” 

Even if the order will be lifted in the near future, Schwartz said they will remain in HHB because “switching back mid-year would be a very chaotic process.”

While the Counseling Center has been and will continue to do mostly Telehealth visits, they plan to convert some of their office space into “Zoom rooms” where students can set up their computers to talk with their counselor in a private and quiet place.

In the meantime, the Graham Health Center has no impending plans for the vacant space left behind by the Counseling Center, but they will play it by ear to see what needs come about. 

“At this point in time, we are having it available so if we need additional patient care rooms we can expand into that area,” said Graham Health Center Director Nancy Jansen, ANP-BC. “A lot of this depends on the demand for our services, so we have that plan ready to go should we need it.”

In addition to their new location, the Counseling Center is launching new programs to help combat the mental health crisis that will hit Oakland University following quarantine. On top of the steadily increasing numbers the Counseling Center experiences year after year, Schwartz predicts a surge in demand for services in August and September as people begin to process the trauma of COVID-19’s “new normal” and the graphic exposure of racial injustice after the death of George Floyd. 

“In the past, incidents that have happened like other pandemics or 9/11 or big moments in history like that, there tends to be about a 3-6 month delay in terms of people seeking services,” Schwartz said. “A lot of times, people might not seek services at the beginning of the quarantine or pandemic because they’re just so busy adjusting to this new world around them and getting their bearings.” 

In order to combat this, the Counseling Center has hired on a new part-time employee and will be introducing group counseling, which Schwartz has been interested in bringing to OU for a while.

“One of the things we’re probably gonna be able to do because of that extra part-time position is offering some more group support in virtual formats,” Schwartz said. “We’ve had some experience with that already and it seems like something that students find very beneficial, and ideally it would be better if we were meeting in person, but the virtual format has been pretty good too.”

According to Schwartz, there will be different groups based on pressing topics — especially in relation to COVID-19 — such as grief and loss, depression or lack of motivation and anxiety. 

The Counseling Center is also working on outreach videos that can be accessed at any time for students to get tips on how to deal with stressors, depression, grief and more. Virtual outreach workshops, both prerecorded and live, will be created to meet student demand. 

“This is something we’ve been wanting to do for a long time, and this is one of those silver linings where I think the pandemic has kind of forced us to move faster with that,” Schwartz said. 

New staff and programs will help the Counseling Center meet the mental health demands of students, and Schwartz reminds students they are still open and to contact them for support and services. 

“Regardless of the demand, I think we’ll find creative ways of meeting it and dealing with anything that comes our way,” Schwartz said. “This next year, I think, is going to be all about making sure we’re being flexible and adaptable.”