UCs use email to improve student counseling

A feeling of comfort takes over in the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) office at Cal State Long Beach. Dim lighting gives the space a house-like feeling, and a tape of the ocean’s waves plays in the background while the receptionist smiles and calmly answers questions.

However, letting a complete stranger know one’s innermost thoughts can be anything but comforting for many students.
To make the process easier, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention created an online interactive screening program, which incorporates anonymous email messaging.

The program is not available for Cal State Universities, but every University of California campus has adopted the program for use in the fall.

“It seems like a really effective way to reach out to students,” director of CAPS at University of California, Los Angeles, Elizabeth Gong-Guy, said. “I really wanted to pursue it.”

According to Gong-Guy, students first take a survey that evaluates their mental health, answering questions that concern mood, connection and general well being. The student can then start an anonymous conversation with a counselor via secure email.

However, even though students are able to communicate with a counselor, the program is not intended to offer online counseling.

“It is a really user friendly way to initiate the process,” Gong-Guy said. “The [counseling] process is gonna be more natural.”

UCLA will first offer the program to graduate and professional students. Other campuses across the country, including other UCs, may launch the program for students entering college for the first time or disperse it to different departments over the semester.

While CSULB is not using the Interactive Screening Program via webmail, it does have an online screening program that students can use to evaluate their mental states, Brad Compliment, director of the CSULB CAPS offices, said.

“It started in 2009,” he said. “It tells [students] how they can talk and gives them resources.”

The screening guides a student through simple questions, first asking for a basic profile then giving multiple choice questions on common signs of depression, anxiety or trauma.

“Anything that prevents people from committing suicide is beneficial,” Dan Lizardo, a junior kinesiology major, said.

Glecina Reyes, a senior business accounting major, had trouble walking into the counseling office when she was battling depression a year ago.

“I didn’t know how to deal with my situation,” she said. “I wasn’t ready for it.”

Reyes said the online approach can have potential drawbacks because of possible misinterpretations.

“Social communication is really a full-body experience … We miss that component online,” Compliment said.

However, the online programs for both the UC and CSU systems are entry level steps to counseling, Compliment said.

“There is something about vocalizing that is curative,” he said. “Most people have never had that experience before … The fact of talking can help.”

The CSULB CAPS office is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and the online evaluation screening can be found at Students can also reach the center afterhours at (562) 985-4001.

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