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AN INDEPENDENT STUDENT NEWSPAPER SERVING THE GW COMMUNITY SINCE 1904

The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Crime log: Subject barred after shoplifting at bookstore
By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • February 26, 2024

Staff Editorial: Taking a closer look at CAPS amid high demand for mental health services

Now more than ever, CAPS ought to be equipped to assist students’ mental health needs.

From world events to personal challenges, therapy can be a vital lifeline for navigating the complexities of modern life. And as messages from University President Ellen Granberg and the Student Association frequently remind students, GW’s Counseling and Psychological Services is here to help.

While CAPS may be the default response in times of crisis, it’s falling short amid unprecedentedly high demand for mental health care nationwide. CAPS’ free services should be an easier alternative than finding a therapist who accepts your health insurance. But with limited staff and appointment availability at CAPS, some of GW’s 26,000 students are slipping through the cracks.

Under CAPS’ “stepped care” model, students can attend brief counseling sessions to address a variety of emotional and academic concerns. Depending on their specific situation, CAPS might refer a student out to a different provider in D.C. to continue therapy. And while counseling sessions with CAPS are free, its psychological services cost $80 for a psychiatric diagnostic interview examination and $50 for medical evaluation and management.

So, despite CAPS’ insistence that “no problem is too big or too small to address in counseling,” it’s not necessarily equipped to help students who need assistance throughout their education at GW. Exploring one’s identity, addressing anxieties and phobias, and achieving wellbeing — let alone building trust with a therapist — can take weeks, months, years or even a lifetime.

CAPS does offer longer-term counseling through AcademicLiveCare, free telehealth provided through GW. But virtual therapy appointments can’t always substitute face-to-face care. Students who benefit from in-person counseling deserve to feel seen and heard, which requires finding a time to meet with a member of CAPS’ team. That may be easier said than done.

CAPS offers walk-in appointments between 12 and 4 p.m., when many students have back-to-back classes. Even if they find time to sit down for a 30-to-60 minute meeting, there’s no guarantee a student will be able to meet with someone who meets their quality of care and representation needs.

CAPS has a combined 16 people on its psychiatric and counseling teams, slightly below the International Accreditation of Counseling Services’ recommendation of a student to certified counselor ratio of one staff member for every 1,000 to 1,500 students. But it’s unlikely such a small staff can see every student who might need care — or relate to the needs and experiences of every student on campus.

Students navigating their religion, culture, sexuality, gender and other facets of their identity deserve to speak with someone who can truly understand what they’re going through. There were 2,739 student appointments with CAPS in the 2021 school year. That’s a broad spectrum of need, and it requires an even larger spectrum of staff to accommodate every student.

Stepped care might allow GW to assist students quickly and effectively with as few resources as possible. But students need consistent, individualized, easy-to-access care — not triage. Short-term, limited counseling sessions may work for some people, but not all of them.

Ultimately, the burden of finding mental health support can all-too-frequently fall upon students, and seeking out help when you’re struggling is already hard enough as it is. In the aftermath of the pandemic, finding a therapist in D.C. can take a substantial amount of time and money — especially if they don’t accept your health insurance.

There’s no simple answer here, and we’re not asking for one. But the first step would be to hire more staff clinicians to bring GW in line closer to that 1 to 1,000 ratio. Students need professional, psychiatric and physiological care — and a CAPS equipped to assist them.

The editorial board consists of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s staff editorial was written by Editorials Assistant Paige Baratta based on discussions with Contributing Culture Editor Jenna Baer, Opinions Editor Ethan Benn, Contributing Social Media Director Anaya Bhatt, Contributing Opinions Editor Riley Goodfellow and Social Media Director Ethan Valliath.

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