A trial run for a new program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln aims to test the benefits of placing counselors in residence halls.

The Counselor-in-Residence program was started as a trial run in August with the placement of Megan Lawrence, a graduate student in the Marriage and Family Therapy program, in Abel-Sandoz, according to Jake Johnson, assistant vice chancellor for Student Affairs. He said the program is intended to increase student access to counseling and remove the stigmas associated with going to a counselor. 

Johnson said counseling is currently only available at Abel-Sandoz but is open to any student. He said Women Investing in Nebraska gave UNL a $93,000 grant on Oct. 16 to expand the program. If this trial is successful, Johnson said UNL intends to use the grant money to expand the program to Harper-Schramm-Smith, Knoll Residential Center and University Suites next fall. 

“We want to evaluate the pilot, see what the reaction is,” Johnson said. “If the response is positive from the residents and counselors in there working, our plan would be to continue to develop the program.”

Johnson said one of the main goals is to improve access to counseling. He said the presence of a counselor at residence halls means students can talk to a counselor without having to leave the building. 

Johnson said another goal of the program is to reduce the stigma that surrounds seeking out counseling and normalize the presence of counselors in students’ lives.

“If you see other students engaging in this service, going to a group that was being run by the counselor or there was a program at your hall where the counselor was involved, you would be more likely to seek out help when you needed it,” he said. 

Lawrence said her role at Abel-Sandoz has already helped with some of the stigma surrounding counseling. 

“Knowledge about this program mainly spreads through word of mouth,” she said. “When I’m here, I often eat in the dining hall or walk around in the halls, and students are surprised and excited to learn about my role. Hopefully, that’s something that will help reduce this stigma.” 

According to Johnson, the program was created as part of a partnership with the Jed Foundation. He said the foundation is a nonprofit organization focusing on mental health and substance abuse in students. 

“One thing they recommended is that we look to place counseling services outside of the clinic and at times that extend beyond regular business,” Johnson said. 

Lawrence said she hopes the Counselor-in-Residence program will grow and develop as a resource to help students’ mental health.

“We’re still in the process of brainstorming how we can make this as effective as possible for students,” she said. “It’s an exciting project, but we’re still in the trial process, so we have to work with it as it goes.”