Monday, March 9, 2015

Annals of Idiocy: Discouraging Students who Need Help

Getting right to the point, it is highly irresponsible for anyone to discourage others who need help, especially adolescents and young adults.  It is tough enough for them to deal with fear, stigma, and the labyrinth of mental health care systems.  For them to break through such barriers only to have someone discourage them should outrage all of us.

In recent months there have been at least two cases of this irresponsibility.  In one, a journalist covering the issue of withdrawals from campus due to mental health issues, an admittedly complex process, allowed the following title to be used in a Huffington Post article: "Using College Mental Health Services Can Lead To Students Getting Removed From Campus".  In another an attorney allowed the following title in a Chronicle of Higher Education piece concerning the alleged mismanagement of therapy records in a rape case: "Raped on Campus? Don’t Trust Your College to Do the Right Thing", and then added further damage by stating "Students: Don’t go to your college counseling center to seek therapy."

It is not that the authors had no point to make.  I do not take issue with advocates calling attention to allegations that there may be problems in the application of procedures on some campuses.  But making sweeping condemnations of an entire field in a large country goes well beyond that.  The number of cases mentioned in articles or blog posts like these is typically very small, as it was in these articles.  This, friends, is what you call over-generalization.  There are over 1,000 college counseling centers in the United States providing millions of therapy sessions annually and they, I dare say, do so competently and with good results.  OK, so the ethics of blogging may be loose indeed, fine.  But these authors are advising potentially millions of our youth to avoid the most convenient, least costly, most specialized services for the college student population.  Doing so is patently absurd, hurtful, and wrong.

Sometimes, actual college counselors are quoted in the articles, but generally very few.  Even rarer are articles written by someone who actually does the work.  Say what you will about attorneys and journalists, but the fact is they do not know, and cannot know, the work from the inside.  They are not managing extremely challenging circumstances while being intimately knowledgeable about and adhering to our specific professional codes of ethics.

Students, listen to those who do the work.  Use your campus counseling service.