Health Center Picture

The University Medical Center is pictured on Tuesday, March 23, 2021, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

As adolescents bloom into young adults during the formative college years, many lessons are learned inside and outside of the classroom. How to make a doctor’s appointment, filing taxes and overall knowledge on taking care of one’s self are all skills people tend to learn outside of the lecture hall.

As mental health becomes a more integrated and accepted aspect of self care and adulthood, learning how to schedule an appointment with a mental health professional joins the list of the aforementioned adulting lessons. This being said, the process of finding a therapist and scheduling an appointment is not always cut and dry. 

Luckily, there are a plethora of options available at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and surrounding clinics for students who may feel overwhelmed or intimidated by the process of scheduling a therapy appointment.

According to Mandy Hansen, a care manager at UNL Counseling and Psychological Services, students can easily arrange appointments with mental health professionals via the amenities offered through the university. 

“If students are just wanting to set up a routine appointment for therapy, what they would do is call our front desk and let one of our front desk staff know that they want to set up an appointment,” Hansen said. “The front desk would assist them with scheduling what's called an initial evaluation, and those initial evaluations are all scheduled on a same day basis.”

According to Hansen, the initial evaluation involves collecting some baseline information to determine what would be the most appropriate assistance for the student and their needs. At the end of the evaluation, the clinician will decide whether the student will be the most successful with CAPS or referred to off-campus professionals who offer a wider scope of care. 

“Our counseling treatment model and overall scope of care focuses on things like effective coping with immediate stressors, academic concerns, mild to moderate anxiety and depression and overall personal concerns,” Hansen said. “Stuff that we would refer out for would be things that maybe clinically fall under the severe category from a diagnostic standpoint. Anything that maybe would benefit from a more in-depth, evidence based, trauma specific intervention that requires 12 or more sessions.” 

If one decides their needs reside within CAPS’ scope of care, their expenses are mostly covered through the university. If it is decided that an off-campus professional will be the most useful, Hansen said insurance coverage and finding the right match for one’s needs are the next orders of business. 

Both Hansen and Katie Frickel, business manager of Monarch Counseling, said there are a lot of great tools for finding a therapist. Many counseling websites offer in-depth counselor biographies. Psychology Today features a database of mental health professionals that breaks down available therapists by location, shows what methods the therapist uses and what insurance they take. 

“As the stigma around mental health has kind of improved and people are more open — especially younger generations — about counseling, I think a lot of times, word of mouth and recommendations from friends can be a great place to start,” Frickel said. 

If students prefer a more hands-off approach to finding an off-campus clinician, CAPS offers UNL students referral consultations in which care managers, such as Hansen, break down which counselors are available around Lincoln and give the student a direct name and referral. 

“I always start with the most practical pieces first: whether or not the provider is in-network with insurance [and] cost of out-of-pocket expenses, because most health insurance plans don't cover mental health services 100%,” Hansen said. “All of those kind[s] of practical things I think make the most sense to look at first because finding a therapist who maybe is a really good match, but isn't affordable, or that you can't get to their office — all of those kinds of things often create more stress for the student.”

For students who may not have access to insurance that covers mental health assistance, Hansen said that there are a couple resources in Lincoln to meet the mental health needs of the community.

“The first thing I've been talking with students about is the Nebraska Medicaid expansion. Many students who are full time students are now eligible for Medicaid coverage and that will help the cost,” Hansen said. “If for some reason they don't qualify for Nebraska Medicaid, there are actually a couple of different nonprofit agencies in the city of Lincoln who provide services.”

These nonprofit agencies are HopeSpoke, which focuses primarily on children, and Bluestem Health, which specializes in providing all kinds of accessible medical, dental and mental health services.

Once insurance is figured out and an appointment is booked, Frickel and Hansen both said to keep in mind that not every therapist is going to be a perfect fit. It is perfectly normal to change counselors until it feels right. 

“I think it's extremely important to find a good person for what you need. When you're in college you're going through all these life changes,” Frickel said. “You might be fresh to Lincoln and you’re immersed in all this new environment and you're making new friends and you're stressed out about class. I think it's extremely important to get going with your mental health right away instead of letting it kind of take a backseat until you're in crisis.”