Counselling and Psychological Services To Make Big Changes This Year24 April 2018
The University of Melbourne’s Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS) is making changes this year in order to accommodate increasing demand. Students have criticised CAPS in the past for the excessive wait times.
CAPS has implemented a new intake system this year where students can access initial consultations that are bookable on the day or one day prior in order to increase access for students with urgent issues. This comes after sustained dissatisfaction about waiting periods in previous years. The new system is a replacement for the daily drop-in system.
“The issue is people will book two weeks ahead, but 10 per cent of those people don’t attend,” said Orania Tokatlidis, the manager of CAPS. “Part of this is that we hope we won’t get so many missed appointments.”
CAPS is focusing on improving access into the service, but Tokatlidis said, “Ultimately though, you need more resources. All the services are in demand and we’re just trying to do things in an innovative way that works for people at the time.”
Wait times have been a consistent concern. One student said they had to wait a month for their appointment after booking over the phone, and voiced concerns about the service’s inaccessibility for those who have urgent needs.
Another student said they had to wait two to three weeks, which made applications to special consideration difficult. They found drop-in appointments to be inaccessible, causing undue anxiety as a session was not guaranteed on the day. They think the new system changes will make CAPS more efficient.
The University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) welfare department echoes these concerns. Office bearers Cecilia Widjojo and Michael Aguilera said, “There have been complaints especially around week six of the semester, when there’s usually an influx as exams start to pick up, meaning that students may wait between three and four weeks for their first session.” They would like to negotiate with the University to allocating more funding towards CAPS.
CAPS is also making other improvements. This year, the service is extending opening hours on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays by an hour until 6pm, as well as stationing a counsellor at Union House every Friday during the semester. CAPS is also expanding its range of other services in an effort to improve broader help to students, like workshops, webinars and mental health training programs for students. It has employed new counsellors with specific portfolios for LGBTQ+ students, for neurodiverse students, and for responding to sexual assault for fast tracking external referrals.
UMSU welfare is also planning to campaign for more resources to respond to the data about sexual assault at universities published by Universities Australia last year. “In the context of the Survey into Sexual Assault on Campus, we would like to lobby for a specialised counselling service to address the issue. Additionally we suggest improvements to the referral process between CAPS and Medicare’s Mental Health Plan, especially as the [University] cannot viably cater for long-term care,” they said.
One student addressed concerns around providing resources for international students, given that they may need help settling into the country and external counselling can be more financially difficult.
Students and UMSU welfare, as well as CAPS itself, are concerned about information not being advertised enough. UMSU welfare hoped to campaign for CAPS to employ a Mandarin-speaking counsellor for Chinese students, not realising that CAPS already employs one.
Tokatlidis clarified that this is because they don’t want to advertise specific counsellors. “We don’t advertise, ‘come and speak to our Mandarin counsellor’, whilst not advertising every single skill and expertise of everyone else, because I just think that seems unfair on everyone. We just don’t want everyone ringing up like, ‘I just want to speak to that one person’.”
Speaking of the service generally, Tokatlidis said that the CAPS website is the best place to obtain information, and, “The website is the best place for all information about CAPS, including making an appointment, information about our Counsellors and their areas of interest, workshop and mental health training information and a lot of self-help resources,” and that improvements will be made to it this year.
But Widjojo does not believe this is enough. “There is room for improvement in the communication to students about the CAPS program—the available information can be hard to navigate and is often ambiguous. We think there are more effective means of delivering this information,” she said.
Despite their criticisms, UMSU welfare expressed willingness to work with CAPS to increase visibility of information.