Frequently Asked Questions
Why am I asked to schedule appointments by phone or in person instead of via email or the web?
We strive to protect confidentiality as much as possible. Email is not a secure form of communication, so we prefer scheduling students in person or on the phone to protect privacy. Additionally, counselor schedules can change quickly, so we find it is ineffective to schedule via email, with time lapses between communications.
What can I expect if I come to the Counseling Service for an intake appointment?
In the interest of accommodating a maximum number of clients, initial appointments are made on a first-come, first-served basis with special consideration for urgent requests.
Your first scheduled visit to the Counseling Service is considered a “consultation”, and it will generally last from 30 to 50 minutes. You will be asked to arrive 20 minutes early to complete initial paperwork. You will meet with a counselor to discuss your concerns and together you will select the best resources for your difficulties. If the level of services offered at Counseling Services seems sufficient to help you resolve your concerns and if you decide to continue counseling, your counselor will schedule a second appointment. If the counselor determines that you would be better served by another agency, they will make a referral to an appropriate resource in the community.
Why would a student benefit from joining a therapy group?
There are many potential benefits to group therapy. Read about them here.
What happens if I see my counselor on campus?
If you see your counselor in public, you can be assured that their desire to protect your privacy remains of the utmost importance. Generally, we do not directly or initially acknowledge knowing students unless we have talked to them about this beforehand. We will take our cue from you; if you do not make eye contact, we will not either. If you say hello, we may say hello back and be friendly but will not engage you about talk about our work together in public spaces. Usually your counselor will talk to you about your preferences regarding familiarity outside the office in your first session.
What is the difference between a therapist and psychiatrist?
A therapist can provide what is commonly called “talk therapy.” This type of provider meets with students to talk about their concerns, offer support and work with students to identify ways to improve their quality of life. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who sometimes provides therapy and is able to write prescriptions for medication.
What do I do if I don’t feel like my therapist is a good match for me?
We want you to know that we do not take this personally!!! We strongly believe that you will not be able to have the best treatment possible if you do not feel a connection with your therapist. We encourage you to talk to your counselor about this directly, but we understand that can be uncomfortable. You can also call the front desk and note that you would like to see another therapist. Our administrative assistant can schedule you to meet with another therapist, or you can request to speak with a counselor to help determine who at VCCS might be a good match for you.
How does confidentiality work?
The information you share with your counselor is confidential. We do not share any information about you or even that you have come to VCCS with anyone outside of VCCS without your written permission. VCCS staff follow all state laws and ethical guidelines of our professions. The Counseling Service reserves the right to determine if you are able to keep yourself safe, if you are a danger to others, and if you are unable to exercise good judgment.
The exceptions to the rule of confidentiality are the following:
- If you are clearly likely to do imminent and serious physical harm to yourself and cannot guarantee you can keep yourself safe, it is your counselor’s duty to keep you safe. In this exceptional case, your counselor may share information relevant to your safety with select parties, such as Administrator on Call, the Dean of Student Living and Wellness, or hospital or emergency personnel as appropriate. In the state of New York, “mental health professionals are required to report to their local director of community services (DCS) or his/her designees when, in their reasonable professional judgment, one of their patients is ‘likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to self or others.’” The purpose of reporting this information is to prevent these individuals from being able to purchase firearms. For more information, go to https://safeact.ny.gov/mental-health-faq.
- If you are clearly likely to do imminent and serious physical harm to others and cannot guarantee you can keep others safe, it is your counselor’s duty to keep others safe. In this exceptional case, your counselor may share information relevant to your safety with select parties, such as Administrator on Call, the Dean of Student Living and Wellness, or hospital or emergency personnel as appropriate. In the state of New York, “mental health professionals are required to report to their local director of community services (DCS) or his/her designees when, in their reasonable professional judgment, one of their patients is ‘likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to self or others.’” The purpose of reporting this information is to prevent these individuals from being able to purchase firearms. For more information, go to https://safeact.ny.gov/mental-health-faq.
- If you share information about the current abuse or neglect of anyone under 18 or a vulnerable adult, or the possibility that such individuals are vulnerable to or witness abuse or neglect, your counselor may be required by state law to report that information to the Department of Social Services in the state where the abuse occurs.
- If you are under 18, your parents have legal access to your counseling records and will need to grant permission for you to be seen at VCCS for on-going treatment
- If you are involved in a court proceeding in which a judge provides your counselor with a court order to provide records, your counselor would be required to do so. Such a situation may arise in child custody proceedings or in proceedings in which your emotional condition is an important element.
- The VCCS psychiatrist must abide by the NY Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing (I-STOP) Act, which regulates prescriptions for controlled substances. Please go to: https://www.oasas.ny.gov/StopRxMisuse/resources.cfm for more information.
- VCCS is considered a confidential resource on campus, which means that we are not required to disclose information related to sexual assault to anyone outside of the Counseling Service.
How does confidentiality work if I talk about:
- Thoughts of Suicide and/or Hurting Others: Confidentiality will apply if you and your counselor feel you are able to keep yourself and/or others safe between sessions and you are willing to reach out for help should you develop a desire to act on these thoughts.
- Cutting/Self-Injury: Confidentiality will apply in most cases, unless self-injury is or becomes life-threatening. We will strongly encourage a student who cuts to get their injuries attended to by Health Services in order to make sure that infections do not occur.
Can my counseling records be accessed by anyone outside of the counseling service, in or outside of the college?
The Counseling Service keeps records as regulated by the New York State Mental Health Code. Maintenance of records is in accordance with professional, legal, and ethical guidelines. Other than authorized Counseling Service staff, no one, including College officials, faculty, parents, potential employers, among others have access to any of your records without your written permission. An Authorization to Release Information Form is used for written permission.
How/when does the Counseling Service disclose information to other departments on campus?
Information is shared when:
- A student completes a release of information for a specific department or person on campus.
- A student is transported to the hospital. In this case, we alert the Dean of Students or an Administrator-on-Call (AOC) if the transport is after-hours.
- A student is at high risk of harm to self or others and we are concerned for the immediate safety of that student or other people. In this case, we may alert the Dean of Students, an AOC or Security.
What is Counseling Service’s role in the Student Support Network (SSN)?
The director of VCCS is a member of the SSN and serves as a consultant. No information from VCCS is shared with SSN without a student’s written permission. The VCCS director listens to the concerns voiced and provides consultation to the committee about how to best approach a student with care and concern, and what resources may be helpful to that student.
If a student takes a medical leave, what role does the Counseling Service play in the reentry process?
The Dean of Students manages the reentry process and makes all related administrative decisions. The Dean of Students often requests that the Director or Assistant Director of VCCS review a student’s reentry paperwork and consult with the student’s doctor to clarify their current functioning and what supports they need to have in place upon their return to maximize their chance of success in their reentry. The Director or Assistant Director of VCCS then communicates this information to the Dean of Students who makes a clearance decision.
How/when does the Counseling Service talk to parents?
We are happy to talk to parents as appropriate in the treatment of a student. We will do so if a student signs an Authorization to Release Information form. We must also get permission for on-going counseling for parents of students under 18. In most other cases when parents talk to us, we will not confirm or deny we work with a particular student. An exception to this is when a student is at high, imminent risk of harm to self or others and we must talk to parents in an effort to keep a student or others safe.
If a parents calls to express concern or ask questions about their student and we do not have a release, we will let them know that we can record information they wish to provide in case that student ever has contact with VCCS, but cannot provide any specific information to them about a student. We can provide general guidance to parents about how to best support students and how to access campus resources.
When should I ask for a crisis visit instead of a regular therapy appointment?
- When you feel as though you are at high risk of harm to yourself or someone else or otherwise can’t keep yourself or others safe.
- When you feel as though you are in a high level of distress and feel like you cannot wait until the next available appointment time.
- When you are having a reaction to medication you are taking for mental health reasons.
What can I expect if I come to the Counseling Service for a crisis visit?
When you request a crisis visit, you will likely be seeing that day’s on-call staff counselor for a brief session. If it is your first appointment of the academic year, regardless of if you’ve seen someone at VCCS in the past, you will need to complete paperwork. You will then meet briefly with a therapist to talk about your concerns, assess your mental health and ability to keep yourself safe, and develop a plan to help manage your concerns. Depending on your concern, you may be scheduled for a subsequent full-length session, referred to an off-campus provider if you are in need of longer-term or specialized treatment, or in extreme circumstances- when you cannot guarantee you can keep yourself or others safe- transported to the hospital for a fuller psychological evaluation.
What can I expect if I call the Counselor-on-Call?
When you talk to the Counselor-on-Call, you will be talking to a licensed mental health professional at ProtoCall, our on-call service. You will be asked to provide some basic information about yourself for their records, and so VCCS staff can follow up with you if needed. You will then have freedom to talk about your concerns and they will help you identify action steps toward resolving your problem. If your problem is of an urgent or emergent nature, you may also then talk to a VCCS therapist, who serves as back-up on call to ProtoCall counselors. All calls made to ProtoCall are summarized and sent to VCCS counselors so we can follow up as appropriate or needed.
Why would a student be sent to the hospital for a psychological assessment?
A student would be sent to the hospital for a psychological assessment in circumstances in which a student cannot guarantee they can keep themselves and/or others safe, a counselor will work with the student to get them to a psychiatric emergency room for evaluation, stabilization and/or further treatment recommendations.
What happens when a student is sent to the hospital for a psychological assessment?
If it is determined that a student must be sent to the hospital, the counselor you are with will call the CRC to request ambulance transport to the hospital. An ambulance is used to protect the safety of the student. When the ambulance arrives, the medics talk to the student and your counselor to get details of what is happening. The medics are trained to be sensitive and supportive in these situations. The medics may be provided with a printed copy of demographic information, as well. The student is then transported to the hospital.
Once at the hospital, a student is checked in and will wait for a psychiatrist to perform a mental health evaluation. This may take a short amount of time or you may have to stay overnight, depending on the time of day you are transported.
When a student is sent to the hospital because they are unable to keep themselves and/or others safe, our priority is making sure that the student stabilizes and is safe. To do this, we must break confidentiality. The counselor will contact the Dean of Students during business hours or the Administrator on Call (AOC) afterhours to let them know that a student has been sent to the hospital for an evaluation. We do not provide specific details about what the student is experiencing, unless others need to know to protect the safety of others. The Dean of Students or AOC contact student’s parents or guardians whenever a student is transported to the hospital for any reason. The Dean of Students will also inform the Dean of Studies that a student is away from campus so the student can be excused from classes. Faculty are not informed about the reason why a student must miss class.
The counselor will call the hospital to provide relevant background and current information to the Social Worker on Call or Mobile Crisis Team so that the psychiatrist assessing the student has all information available to make a thorough assessment.
When the psychiatrist meets with a student, they will gather information and determine next steps. This might include adding or changing medication, admission to the hospital in order to stabilize a student, making treatment recommendations and/or discharge. VCCS or your treatment provider will follow up with you in order to provide support and ensure that you are connected to the appropriate resources.
What happens if a student talks about suicidal thoughts in a counseling session?
We frequently work with students who express suicidal thoughts in session. The counselor will work with the student to understand the distress that is behind thoughts of suicide. In most situations, a counselor and student will work together to create a plan of action to help a student stay safe. This plan usually includes identifying methods of self care, distraction, and people to reach out to for help. The plan may at times include, with the student’s agreement, involving parents or other supportive “adults” in the student’s life so that the student does not have to manage the feelings outside of session on their own. In extreme circumstances in which a student cannot guarantee they can keep themselves safe, a counselor will work with the student to get them to a psychiatric emergency room for evaluation, stabilization and/or further treatment recommendations.
Do you send students home or put them on a required leave because of mental health concerns?
No. VCCS does not send students home or put them on a required leave because of mental health concerns. In instances where students need a higher level of care to attend to mental health needs, we work in collaboration with a student’s other treatment providers and often family to help identify what services the student needs and how to get them into treatment. This may result in a student deciding to take time off from school either at home or somewhere they can receive a higher level of treatment than what we or the local community can provide.
When are students referred off campus for treatment?
Students are referred off-campus for treatment for various reasons:
- Specialized treatment: VCCS therapists are generalists. If a student has a specific concern they would like to focus on or type of treatment they are interested in, we will work with a student to find a provider off-campus that can better assist them.
- Desire for frequent sessions: VCCS therapists can generally see students every other week. A student would be referred off-campus if they are want to or need to see a therapist more regularly, such as weekly or multiple times a week.
- Desire for longer term work: VCCS operates within a short-term model, meaning that treatment is generally measured in months rather than years. If a student wants to establish a longer term, more regular relationship with a therapist, we will work with them to find an off-campus provider with whom they can work without the time limitations we have.
If I am interested in seeing a therapist or psychiatrist off campus, what steps should I take?
You can use your insurance to find a provider off-campus. In order to do this, go to the website on your insurance card and log in. There will be a “Find a Provider” link. You can usually search for specific criteria, such as gender, language spoken or distance from you, as well as specialty.
- Specialties to look for when searching for a therapist: Psychology or Psychologist (sometimes Clinical Psychologist), Social Work or Social Worker, Mental Health Counselor or Mental Health facility.
- Specialties to look for when searching for medication or medication management: Psychiatry or Psychiatrist and or Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner.
You are also welcome to contact VCCS for assistance and specific recommendations of treatment providers in the community.
If I don’t have the resources to pay for off campus mental health treatment, what are my options?
If you qualify for a Pell Grant or are an international student whose financial situation would make you Pell Grant equivalent, you are eligible to access the Mental Health and Wellness Fund through the Financial Aid office. We encourage you to call or email the director of the Financial Aid Office to let them know you plan to access the fund and for specific details about using the fund. Generally, students who use this fund can submit requests for reimbursement for travel expenses and co-payments for mental health services off-campus. Usually you can only get reimbursed for one appointment per week.
How can I provide feedback about my experiences at the Counseling Service?
You can provide feedback by talking to your counselor in person, talking to the director, Wendy Freedman by phone at 845-437-5700 or you can provide anonymous feedback through our website: https://counselingservice.vassar.edu/feedback/.