“All this personalized advice is a waste of time. For every hour you spend in person, you miss thousands of people."
Counseling psychologist Ben Locke still remembers how angry he was when he heard this from a respected professor during an interview for a doctoral program. Her future consultations with people in hospitals, group homes, community clinics, and natural therapies seemed futile. How can the people responsible for teaching the word of instruction be offensive?
Despite his beard and Xennial status, Locke still lives in the childhood of a perpetual student. As she recounted the story, she broke down again at the thought of the thousands of students who had been forgotten and abandoned to the doctor's compassionate care.
He became director of Penn State's Counseling Center and founded the Center for University Mental Health (CCMH), a center for university counseling services that uses real-time data from counseling centers to track and describe health trends. In high school, Locke gradually began to see a different image.
Counseling centers are struggling to keep up with the increased demand and growing pathology in their students. Consider that many students are at risk of suicide, hospitalization and treatment, and the ever-increasing demands of work, school, and family.
But the more you understand this system, the more therapists you send into the office and on call, the more prevention programs you create to challenge yourself, the more awareness you bring into bedrooms and classrooms, the longer it lasts. Do not drown.
Nearly two decades later, the CCMH data revealed a startling new reality: Children weren't safe, but they weren't alone. We were ourselves and our vision of these issues.
Two calls to action became clear to Locke. First, we need to view college mental health as a complex public health issue at the population level, rather than focusing on how many students may seek therapy. Second, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for all campuses, but there are a wide range of strategies that go beyond plain old either/or solutions.
When management professors Wendy K. Smith and Marian Lewis took both and thought—using the paradox for more creative purposes—Locke began to see a way to break free from the mindless fast thinking that operated in the university environment.
While Locke's research is compelling, it shows that simply hiring more consultants won't solve the problem. But the words of this omniscient professor rang in his ears. CCMH research shows that each additional counselor can support an average of 125 students per year, and in extreme cases, up to 300 students. But if you're on a campus of 50,000 students and 20,000 need treatment, that's one less counselor. bucket.. It is always about both: increased clinical staff and programs, and creative and innovative approaches to finding solutions at the population level.
Any thinking just doesn't work, but most of it is hidden in plain sight. The unrelenting energy of students to identify mental illness only exacerbates the imbalance that students seek to correct. Just like with suicide or a serious eating disorder, statisticians take what they lovingly call a sample of 1 and inflate it as if everyone else had the same thing they didn't.
Another “either/or” trap is poor mental health. Some benefit greatly from overcoming their shame through counseling, while others unwittingly make their problems worse by struggling painfully with their healthy anxieties, sadness, and grief. Locke jokingly explained the incident: "I don't have butterflies in my stomach, I have logophobia." These people were fine years ago or could have solved their problems with normal support, but now they find themselves in an overburdened medical system.
Lately, debates about whether and to what extent college education should be offered have been based on either/or assumptions. Many well-intentioned college counselors worry that this will undermine college mental health and devalue the unique community of college counselors.
Locke's final project addresses all of these legitimate concerns. He describes his work as a researcher, psychologist and educator as simultaneous and/or reflexive, answering difficult questions: Is there a way to beat the zero-sum game with enough teachers and more students? Can dental samples be taken at the population level at the same time as the most vulnerable youth? Can the scale and benefits of technology continue to be harnessed while protecting against toxic exposures?
Locke discovered this in an anonymous online community of more than 3 million students from more than 350 institutions. Peers have 24/7 access to support, counseling and communication, while being closely monitored and protected in psychiatric clinics.
It is the best of both worlds, where participants receive individual and group therapy: hope, attitude, empathy, self-confidence, problem-solving skills, goodwill and team membership, and best of all, the most qualified. Investors: colleagues. Experienced counselors, nurses, and psychiatrists are available 24/7 when people need them, but they work mostly in the background, carefully shaping the community and ensuring that everyone benefits and everyone needs it. visible .
Do you see and/or work here?
Instead of focusing on the few mentors you have, why not encourage your students to find and support each other as you increase your mentoring opportunities? Are you always sure that your digital network generation is safely managed by experts? Build a global team of physicians to strategically shape, support, monitor and intervene as needed to ensure the development of a self-sustaining community. Are you bothered by the hum and excited echo chamber? Build people who care and are interested in real help and communication, then use technology to achieve that goal at scale.
Like any good paradox, this professor was both right and wrong, and Locke found creative ways to figure out how. The challenge of dealing with the sheer scale and change that college counseling faces is mixing accepted truths with unconventional applications, using new technologies with traditional methods, being proactive and willing to make mistakes, and letting the data guide you along the way. To be right.
When many of us consider the challenges facing universities today, we often focus on the math and the zero-sum game we're losing. Using both mindsets allows us to recognize the computation hidden in this new game we're playing and see it for what it is: not insurmountable challenges, but achievable opportunities that reflect who we are, and if we're wise enough, we can move forward. and systematicity.