Many students praised the announcement earlier this week that the administration will add three new employees to Counseling and Psychiatric Services — two of the three to work on the main campus — to respond to excess demand that has long been a central part of student complaints about CAPS. The added employees will without doubt cut down on waiting times for appointments and requests to see individual psychiatrists at CAPS. The university’s choice to finally take seriously student complaints about the quality of service at CAPS, especially its bureaucratic and staffing limitations, is also encouraging.
However, while hiring more psychologists merits praise, the change will not fix the other, underlying structural problems within CAPS. The growing demand coupled with limited supply has long been a feature of student criticisms of CAPS; in the 2014-15 academic year, the service received 11,472 visits from 1,772 students, including 39 cases of psychiatric hospitalization. Scheduling counseling appointments is difficult because CAPS operates on a 9-to-5 daily schedule, which is inconvenient for many students whose classes and sports practices fill up that time period. Although CAPS offers an on-call clinician during the evenings, nights are often also a time when students need psychiatric services most.
Other central issues with CAPS are its payment model and referral structure to other psychiatric services. Currently CAPS offers on average three free initial counseling sessions before charging students or referring them to outside services — an incredibly limiting restraint that cuts off students in financial need when they are suffering at the height of an acute situation. What’s more, this limitation is laughable by the standards of most peer schools — Creighton University, a fellow Jesuit university, offers unlimited free counseling to all full-time students. And because supply is currently so inadequate to meet demand at CAPS, the service is often too quick to refer students in need of long-term treatment to outside services — not taking into account the sometimes calamitous consequences that can come about when continuity of care is severed. In particular, CAPS should be more responsive to students whose outside care is stopped due to scheduling or cost concerns and who need to temporarily return to on-campus services to guarantee their emotional health in the meantime.
More resources and more staffing will dramatically improve the daily experiences of many students at Georgetown who are suffering from mental and emotional conditions. But if CAPS truly wishes to augment its services, it needs to dramatically rethink its very structure. And the Georgetown administration should aid CAPS by both listening to student voices and providing commensurate resources, financial and otherwise.