Going to therapy or having a counselor still carries embarrassment to some despite a broader acceptance of mental health in our society. Even so, during this time of stress of COVID-19, making sure you are getting as much support as you can is crucial. University of Iowa students are no exception, even with the long distance from University Counseling Service.
When I signed up for group therapy my freshman year, we discussed the rules for the group and the confidentially around it, and I was asked if I had a sort of backup plan if a friend or peer asked me where I was going during the group meeting time. While others might have felt more comfortable with telling others they were at work or studying, I told the truth: “I’m going to group. I go once a week at the University Student Counseling building.”
I treasured group therapy my freshman and sophomore years; I advocate for it whenever the opportunity arrives. But when many students were forced to leave Iowa City because of COVID-19, my group disbanded. A major cause of the dismantling of my group and all others was that I was returning to Wisconsin. Because of state lines, the UI could not provide ongoing counseling care for me or for many out-of-state students.
Even so, the university has taken many steps to reach out to students across state lines who need closure or counseling at this time. In a Zoom interview with the UCS Director Barry Schreier, he said they have moved services to telemental health, with no interruptions for individual counseling.
“In the end, it was heartbreaking to let groups go,” he said.
While group counseling is no longer available during the spring 2020 semester, Schreier said there is a new support group available. Because state lines and governments still uphold state licensing during COVID-19, the UI cannot officially provide ongoing counseling. They are desperately trying to negotiate with states that a great majority of students live in to lift their license restrictions.
“Two weeks ago, we were able to connect with Illinois,” he said. “Next, we reach out to California.”
The UCS is also finding ways to still stay in contact with students even with the state lines. The service is providing asynchronous workshops on numerous topics, which people can access all over the world. A weekly newsletter sent to all students enrolled at the UI called “This Week at UCS” lists all of the workshops and Zoom meetings.
In the end, if people do not feel comfortable with an online group or would rather meet with someone in person, Schreier said UCS also has a guide on how to find a practitioner. As a Wisconsinite traveling to Iowa City, it was hard to find a therapist who would cover my insurance. With this guide, it will make the transition back into Iowa City in the fall smoother.
I am glad to know that the university still cares for its students and their mental health during this trying time. The institution continues to reach above and beyond for its students, no matter the crisis.