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story | Dave Chappell, Justin Ong, Enkhzul Badral
photo | Serena Quay
Many students and staff members remain unaware of guidelines limiting the number of counselling sessions available at the Wellness Centre, which was introduced by the Dean of Students Office. None of the eight students interviewed by The Octant knew of the policy’s existence.
While details on the policy remain scarce, Associate Director of Athletics, Health and Wellness, Peter Low, told The Octant that a limit had been introduced prior to his arrival in July. Still, some members of the administration remain unaware of the policy’s details. Students interviewed by The Octant expressed mixed opinions, acknowledging the limited number of counselors but expressing concern at the disincentives that the policy creates.
According to Mr. Low, the limit is intended as “a general period of counseling engagement” and can be extended on a case-by-case basis at the counselor’s discretion. He added the policy was introduced to work “towards empowering an individual to undertake and sustain self-care.”
However, the strictness of the limit remains in question. Dean’s Fellow Brea Baker told The Octant that, while she was aware of a limit, “there is not currently any official quota of sessions that the wellness centre provides.” When asked about it by a member of The Octant, Wellness Executive, Hoi Yee said she hadn’t heard of anything.
When pressed on the specific limit, Mr. Low said that it was typically eight sessions, but didn’t specify the time-frame. President Pericles Lewis said that the limit of eight-sessions was a guideline for any one course of counseling.
Full-time counselor, Saveria Cristofari, declined to comment on the limit and Dean of Students, Christopher Bridges, and part-time psychologist Claudia Ahl did not respond to repeated requests in time for printing.
Students interviewed by The Octant typically confused the limit with the eight session per year limit on counseling services offered by the external Singapore American Community Action Council (SACAC). Clara Peh ’19 said that based on her understanding, the 8 session limit was only for SACAC, and that students “could visit the psychologist at the wellness centre regularly.” Rachel Quek ’18 expressed similar confusion, and said she did not know about such a policy within the wellness centre.
Even students who had regular involvement with the Wellness Centre said they had no knowledge of the change. Francesca Maviglia ’19, a member of P.S. We Care, was unaware of the policy and said that she felt that it is “a piece of information that should be shared because [P.S. We Care] refer people to wellness counselors if [they] feel that [they] cannot handle the degree of issues.”
When students were asked what they thought about the guidelines, some students expressed concerns. Will Goebel ’19 said that a limit would disincentivize some who may really need care from reaching out for help. A limit would be potentially “dangerous, especially for students that have been told that the wellness center is an option,” Goebel said.
These sentiments were echoed by Hannah Yeo ’18, who said “[she] specifically chose to see a psychologist [at the Wellness Center] because there was no limit”. Yeo added that if the college adopted a limit then it would be “just like NUS.”
Other students expressed concern regarding the stigma that the policy might create. Maviglia said “if you put a threshold with a certain number then once you pass that threshold then you’re automatically seen as more serious and there is going to be a larger degree of stigma.”
These sentiments were echoed by Peh, who said that having a limit is problematic because outside this limit “people might also have to explain to their parents.”
However, some staff members highlighted the need to take the well-being of the counselors into account. Ms. Baker said that the ideal situation would be to have no limit on the amount of wellness sessions, but this would put a lot of pressure on the limited amount of wellness support currently available. She said that “if counselors are being stretched thin, they are not only not taking care of their own well-being [but] they are also unable to support the students”.
Some students concur with Ms. Baker’s sentiment. Joceline Yong ’18 said that it depends on what the limit is, and why there is a limit. “A very reasonable limit” would be preferable to prevent a situation where a student would be “going to the wellness centre every single day”, which Yong said would be “ridiculous”. Paul Jerusalem ’19, said he is for such a limit if it helps counselors remain accessible to everyone in the community, but questions how effectively students’ need will be assessed when extending past eight sessions is necessary.
While the response to the policy was mixed, all students interviewed agreed on a need for better communication about the policy. Izzy Ngo ’19 said that everybody should know about the policy, as it affects everyone, personally or indirectly.
“If it affects us a student body then I think we should have a say on what’s being done for transparency’s sake,” she said.
Mr. Lewis told The Octant that the guidelines will be more explicitly communicated in 2017.