During my orientation, my orientation leader and group had a sit-down conversation about mental health. She told us that it wasn’t uncommon for new college students to have some struggle in their first year of school. She also told us about the student counseling center, a free resource for UT students to get help if they are struggling with anything mental health-wise. Sadly, many students do not seek help. Those who do seek help find it is not always as easy as it is advertised when they first visit their respective colleges. UT likes to pride itself by providing free counseling and therapy at the counseling center. However, students who do go visit the counseling center find that it is not as good as it seems.

Last semester, my first semester as a sophomore, was the hardest semester I have had so far at UT. To make a long story short, I have always had general anxiety disorder — I grew up with it — but it was always manageable until last semester. I coped with medication, but it was just not working like it used to, so as a last resort, I went to the counseling center. I walked in hoping I could get the help I so desperately needed. Assuming I would be easily able to see a counselor like advertised, I made an appointment. When I got to my appointment, however, I was shocked to learn that since I came in October, there were not any counselors available. I was told I should have scheduled an appointment earlier in the semester if I wanted to meet with a counselor.

While the counseling center did give me other options, such as online counseling, I left discouraged and confused. At first, online counseling seemed like something I would enjoy doing while I waited for the opportunity to see an in-person counselor. However, I learned that the online counseling is essentially just journal keeping. Why couldn’t I see a counselor like it was advertised on the webpage and during my college tour?

When I was able to see a counselor this semester, I was told I could only have a maximum of 12 one-on-one appointments per semester. I understood that I couldn’t just have indefinite visits, but 12 seemed like a very small amount. What happened if I still felt like I wasn’t able to cope with my anxiety? Would they just tell me “Sorry, but we can’t help you anymore, good luck”? After my first appointment, I learned that if I still felt I didn’t get the help I needed, I could attend group therapy. For some people group therapy would be beneficial, but for me, and I’m sure many other students, group therapy is my worst nightmare. I wouldn’t feel comfortable spilling my internal dialogue to a room of strangers. There has to be a better solution than kicking students to the curb after their 12 appointments

Don’t get me wrong, I still think that the counseling center is a great resource that UT has, and I am very grateful that UT offers free counseling. But I do think that it could use some improvements. To start, I don’t think turning away students who seek help is beneficial. To solve this issue, UT could offer a broader variety of appointments. For example, most one-on-one appointments are one hour long. For students who schedule appointments later in the semester, a shorter, 30-minute appointment would be a great option. By making appointments shorter, more people can get the help they need, and they won’t have to turn away as many students who need help.

For those students who are able to get a one-on-one counselor, being turned away after your 12 appointments is discouraging. There has to be a better way to help those students. I think that after those 12 appointments, you should have the option of scheduling an appointment once a month, as needed or, like students who seek help later in the semester, a 30-minute appointment. Offering a peer mentor or graduate counselor would also be a great option. While the counseling center is a wonderful resource and incredibly beneficial, there is always room for improvement. Coming from a student who does use the counseling center, despite some of its shortcomings, I would still highly recommend making a visit if you are struggling with anything at all.

Lauryn Adkins is a sophomore in business administration exploratory studies. She can be reached at mbacurin@vols.utk.edu.

Columns and letters of The Daily Beacon are the views of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Beacon or the Beacon's editorial staff.

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