Here’s how the faculty and staff at Millersville’s Counseling Center were an anchor for students during uncertain times.
The Counseling Center at Millersville University has long served as an anchor for students in need. With services ranging from individual and group counseling to crisis intervention, alcohol and other drug counseling and more, there’s certainly no lack of resources for Marauders looking for a little extra help. “The best part is all of our services are free to enrolled students,” says Dr. Kelsey Backels, a psychologist, department chairperson and director of the Counseling Center. “Even part-time, online and graduate students can use our services—we’re here to help all of our Marauders.”
So, when the world came to a crashing halt in March 2020 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, finding a way to provide these services to students facing new challenges became even more crucial. Many no longer had access to the services of the University’s Counseling Center in person as most students headed back to their hometowns to hunker down during quarantine, and the Counseling Center went virtual after March 13, 2020.
“We did not see an uptick in students seeking counseling as a result of the pandemic, which surprised us,” says Backels. “Our numbers are pretty steady now but are still a bit less than this time last year. Interestingly, this is consistent with what most university counseling centers are reporting.”
But make no mistake: The Counseling Center team was busy. In fact, from March 30, 2020, to October 27, 2020, the Counseling Center provided 298 unique students with 1,455 individual appointments, all online, with a faculty and staff of just eight. And while they didn’t face an influx of students requesting counseling, they did note that they were looking for new, different types of support. “Back in March, we noticed a trend of students coming to us for support and looking for help to stay grounded after their lives were upended by COVID-19. Some students reported difficulties in managing their time and academics in a virtual setting,” explained Backels. “This fall, students seem to have adjusted and adapted better to remote classes, but they still report feeling disconnected and worried about when this pandemic well end.” Backels and her team also noted that many students have used the phrase “COVID fatigue” to describe their feelings of exhaustion and lingering uncertainty.
Since the pandemic moved many of Millersville’s operations online, the Counseling Center has found some creative ways to bring some of their services into the online space, including virtual pet therapy and virtual yoga, which are now available through the center’s Instagram account. “We also worked with the University’s Health Services to hire a consulting psychiatrist to provide psychiatric care to students who are in counseling, free of charge,” shared Backels. The team has worked hard to ensure that they remove as many barriers to access of their services as possible and remain ready to help any student seeking assistance.
Backels and the team are well-versed in the benefits of counseling but recognize that some students may feel a sense of shame around the subject. She says she encourages them to look beyond those feelings and focus on the value that comes from addressing their issues, insecurities and difficulties in a safe environment with the help of a professional. “MU students come to the Counseling Center for help, and so many of them end up referring their friends and roommates to us because their experience was so positive,” she shared.
Backels also notes that many times, students end up divulging information about past losses, abuses or other difficult circumstances for the first time ever to one of MU’s counselors. “Counseling can provide emotional support in an environment that is nonjudgmental and caring; it can challenge one to examine thoughts, feelings and behaviors that are blocking us.”
The Counseling Center’s services will continue to be offered virtually through the spring 2021 semester. “Remember, we’re here to help,” says Backels.