University Health Center

The University Health Center and UNMC College of Nursing is pictured at 550 N 19th St. on Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018, in Lincoln, Nebraska

Before the fall of 2018, University of Nebraska-Lincoln students who used Counseling and Psychological Services had a limited number of free visits and had to pay for any additional visits.

However, since switching to a free, short-term care model and hiring two new counselors, the number of UNL students utilizing CAPS has increased by more than 50 percent, according to numbers collected from August to December 2018.

CAPS hired three new counselors in 2019 to improve student access, according to CAPS director Tricia Besett-Alesch. The department currently has 16 professional staff members and two openings for additional psychologists.

Besett-Alesch said CAPS follows the International Association of Counseling Services standards for student-to-counselor ratio, which recommends UNL should have between 17 and 26 professional staff members with its enrollment.

“CAPS desires to help our students succeed and support their goals,” Besett-Alesch said in an email. “Therefore, we reevaluate our services annually to make sure we are meeting the needs and requests of our students and [the] UNL community.”

Omar Elkhader, the committee chair for the Association of Students of the University of Nebraska Campus Life and Safety Committee and junior mechanical engineering major, said students will be satisfied with the amount of counselors available as long as they continue to have access to the mental health services they need.

A student at UNL completes an average of five to seven individual visits to CAPS, Besett-Alesch said. CAPS offers free, long-term services beyond that through group therapy.

Some students wish they could access individual counseling more often, she said.

“We do have some students that would prefer to be seen multiple times per week and/or weekly,” Besett-Alesch said. “Although we understand this desire, we also are mindful that we do not have the capacity to provide that type of service.”

CAPS works with psychologists and psychiatrists in the Lincoln community to provide another option for students looking to continue individual therapy or attend more sessions, according to Besett-Alesch.

Elkhader said he hopes the additional counselors will allow CAPS to offer more individual sessions.

“I know that they’ve been prioritizing group services, and I think that part of that is because of the lack of counselors,” he said. “Hopefully, with the addition of two new counselors, they can improve upon their individual services because I know for a lot of people, individual counseling is a lot more effective in terms of what they can improve upon.”

However, Elkhader also acknowledged the limits to what a university service can provide.

“Almost all universities across the country have a very short-term model,” he said. “A more-or-less ‘you need someone now’ kind of model… It’s the way that universities work.”

Besett-Alesch said no matter what, CAPS aims to address students’ mental health needs.

“Our goal was to ensure students have access to the mental health services they need [when the changes were made],” she said. “We are striving to bring mental health care upstream before challenges become crises.”