Therapists move to frontlines of dorms

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Therapists move to frontlines of dorms

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By Elianna Novitch

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On the second floor of Stanley Residence Hall, Patrick Galligan sits in his office. He is the newest of three embedded staff therapists on campus at the University of Iowa.

“I was interested in unique positions, and psychologists can get positions in University Counseling Service, but this one stood out to me because it’s not in your typical setting for a university counseling service,” he said. “The location was different, and it is newer to collegiate mental health.”

The embedded model being applied on UI’s campus relocates counseling services to different areas on campus that have a high need for the services but very small numbers of people who use them.

The main office the University Counseling Service is located in Westlawn — a location that many view as too far away from the center of campus.

“The counseling center did some research to figure out what was preventing students from coming to Westlawn,” Galligan said. “It seemed like the No. 1 barrier was the location and the distance it was away.”

So far, therapists have been embedded in the College of Dentistry, Athletics Department, and Residence Life. The therapist at the dental school has been embedded there for five years, whereas Athletics and Residence Life added therapists this year.

“We have created partnerships with these departments,” said Counseling Service Director Barry Schreier. “The departments are paying for these positions, but what they are getting in return is all the infrastructure of the Counseling Service. They don’t have to start up anything.”

The creation of the embedded staff position in Residence Life was spurred by students who raised concern about the need they saw for services but a lack of use by students.

“I worked as a resident assistant in Slater and Peterson and realized that we were missing a huge opportunity to assist with students’ mental health,” said UI Student Government President Rachel Zuckerman. “As a residence assistant, really challenging work fell on our shoulders to almost become counselors, and that’s just not feasible because we are still only students.”

Zuckerman was the first student to raise the idea of an embedded staff therapist to Residence Education last year. A major part of her campaign to become president of UISG was getting more resources for students’ mental health into the residence halls.

“One of the biggest benefits of having someone embedded in the residence halls is that it brings the resources closer to students,” she said. “Bringing resources closer to where students are, bringing them literally into their living space, is a phenomenal way to start breaking down barriers that might prevent students from getting help.”

Zuckerman said she thinks these services will help normalize mental health and mental illness because it stops being some “foreign thing” and instead a fixture in everyday residence life, like eating at the dining hall or going to tutoring services for help.

Other Big Ten universities use the embedded model as well, including Northwestern, Ohio State, and Michigan.

“There is hope that we will proliferate in some way with these positions and continue to build up services with more of these positions,” Schreier said.

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