A group of students lounging on a couch in a college campus building.

Accessing Counseling Services in College: What Do I Do?

Accessing counseling services in college is not always a straightforward process. Fortunately, most colleges and universities have dedicated resources to support students' mental health and well-being. Here are some steps you can take to start the process:

1. Research Your College's Counseling Services:

  • Start by visiting your college's website or contacting the student affairs or health services department to gather information about available counseling services. They should provide details on the services offered, location, and how to schedule an appointment.

2. Check for Eligibility/Fit:

  • Confirm whether counseling services are available to all students, or if there are specific eligibility criteria, such as being enrolled full-time or part-time. 
  • Some school counseling services only offer a certain number of sessions to students. If you are looking for something more long term, inquire about their capability to meet that need or provide external referrals to outside agencies. 
  • If an external agency is a better fit, call your insurance company to verify mental health coverage and cost of services. This process is explained in greater detail in the “Other Things To Know” section.

3. Schedule an Appointment, and Complete Intake Forms:

  • Once you have identified the counseling services, contact the counseling center to schedule an appointment. You can often do this through phone, email, or an online appointment request form. Some colleges also offer walk-in hours for urgent situations.
  • In most cases, you will be asked to complete intake forms before your first appointment. These forms typically gather essential information about your background, concerns, and goals for counseling.

4. Attend Your Initial Assessment Session:

  • Your first session is usually an assessment, where a counselor will discuss your concerns and assess your needs. This session helps determine the most appropriate course of action, whether it's short-term counseling, group therapy, or referrals to external providers.
  • Ask questions! Get a feel for who your counselor will be and how they align with what you are looking for. 
  • Some important questions to consider: How do they schedule appointments? Are sessions completely confidential? 

5. Discuss Your Concerns Openly:

  • Be open and honest during the assessment session. The more your counselor knows about your situation, the better they can tailor their support to your specific needs.

6. Create a Treatment Plan:

  • If it's determined that you would benefit from ongoing counseling with your school’s provider, you and your assigned counselor will work together to create a treatment plan. This plan outlines your goals, the frequency of sessions, and the therapeutic approach to be used.

7. Attend Regular Sessions: Be Intentional!

  • Commit to attending your counseling sessions as scheduled - consistency is essential for the therapeutic process! If you cannot attend a session, notify the counseling center in advance to reschedule.
  • The “therapy hour” is typically 50 minutes. It can be helpful to make an agenda in advance of your appointment to focus on what is important to you and make the most out of your time. Take notes throughout the week to refer back to.

Other Things To Know

What is a Referral?

  • If your school’s counseling center cannot meet your needs, they may refer you to an external agency for individual counseling, group therapy, or other form of treatment. You will need to follow up with the external provider to schedule an appointment.

Verify Your Insurance Coverage:

  • If you are referred to or looking into external agencies not affiliated with your college, verify your insurance coverage. 
  • Call the member services number on your insurance card or insurance website, and have your member ID number ready so a support agent can access your specific plan.
  • Some insurance plans have restrictions on what services are covered depending on your location. Call your insurance company to see what counseling services will be covered.
  • If your insurance does not cover out-of-state services, inquire about how your school’s counseling center can accommodate and support you. Some private practices offer a sliding scale fee for sessions, or reduced cost sessions with counselors in training.
  • If you are on a parent’s insurance plan, they may receive a statement of benefits on your behalf. You can verify this with your insurance company.

Therapy is Confidential!

  • Counseling services typically maintain strict confidentiality about what you share in session. What you discuss with your counselor is private, except in cases where there is a risk to your safety or the safety of others.

Utilize Crisis Services if Needed:

  • If you are in crisis or need immediate support, many college counseling centers offer crisis intervention services. Call or visit the counseling center for assistance.
  • You can call or Text 988 to reach the Suicide Hotline.
  • Call 911 or visit your nearest emergency room if you are in danger of harming yourself or someone else

With this information, you can access the counseling services available at your college (or in your community) and begin your journey toward improved mental health and well-being. Don't hesitate to reach out for support when you need it; taking care of yourself is essential to getting the most out of the college experience.