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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Op-ed: GW’s switch in mental health providers limits student access to counseling

Cassie Navalta is a Master’s of Public Health candidate at the Milken Institute School of Public Health. 

On a random Wednesday morning, I received an email that shows how much GW cares about student mental health. And to be clear, the University does not care enough. Just six weeks into the start of the semester, the email notified students that GW was switching its telehealth provider from AcademicLiveCare to TimelyCare.

GW partnered with AcademicLiveCare in January 2023 to provide free, unlimited counseling and telehealth services for students — a resource I started using that month to receive therapy since getting outsourced from GW Counseling and Psychological Services. With no warning, I lost access to my therapist and was left unsure of how I would get the help I needed.

Mental health remains a serious issue on GW’s campus and other colleges across the nation. A national survey last year found that 37 percent of college students reported needing help for emotional or mental health problems. On top of that, anxiety, depression and suicide rates reached a peak not seen in the past 15 years, and 44 percent of students experienced symptoms of depression. CAPS, already under scrutiny for limited care, should not have taken this moment to further restrict treatment options for students.

Despite the obvious need for mental health services, TimelyCare is offering students less instead of more. With AcademicLiveCare, students could schedule as many appointments with their therapists as requested. But TimelyCare limits students’ access to nine scheduled counseling appointments per academic year.

That means students must now ration the number of free sessions the University is willing to provide throughout the academic year. This boils down to a single session per month. For many students, it’s not enough.

Without any warning that AcademicLiveCare resources would no longer be available, students were not given adequate time to close out care with their providers. I felt lucky to have previously scheduled an appointment with my therapist. Students who didn’t have an appointment on the books before the the switch to TimelyCare were likely stripped of the opportunity to meet again with their providers.

Continuation of care is vital, as a strong relationship between the patient and provider must be established before progress can usually be made. A limit on the number of counseling sessions prevents students from creating a healthy and productive relationship with their provider. Having previously developed that all-important relationship with my therapist, I was apprehensive about switching to TimelyCare. For those of us who only want to meet with a single therapist, nine appointments won’t cut it.

GW’s email left many questions unanswered, including the timeframe of the transition to TimelyCare. Reaching out to CAPS for answers, I was told that the switch to TimelyCare became effective Feb. 21, 2024, with the last day to use AcademicLiveCare services falling on Feb. 29.

The week of the transition, it felt like my world was crashing down on me. My support system had recently changed and I had faced a traumatic situation that I needed help processing. I was forced to deal with my experiences without professional help while transitioning to TimelyCare.

The immediate switch from AcademicLiveCare to TimelyCare showed a blatant disregard for the needs of students. Instead of starting the transition earlier, or giving students a heads up, the University informed students in the middle of the week, halfway through the semester. At this point, classes had already picked up pace and midterms were right around the corner. Dealing with midterms alone is difficult; finding a new therapist on top of that is unfathomable.

Seeing a therapist outside of GW already presents obstacles because of additional costs or co-payments. Along with that, finding a time to meet during the busy school year is a challenge. AcademicLiveCare allowed students to access free therapy at a convenient time and in the quantity that we needed. The University’s tuition rates continues to rise, but students will now receive fewer services through TimelyCare.

Instead of weighing the harm that such a transition poses on students’ wellbeing, it appears as though GW only considered when one contract ended and when the next began. For future decisions that involve students, particularly those related to health care, GW needs to give students adequate time to prepare and adjust — especially those who use the services.

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