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Finals stress brings attention to mental health resources at Lubbock’s colleges and universities

Olivia O'Rand
Texas Tech Public Media
With increased conversations about staffing, retention, demand, and budgeting for college mental health services, we examined what mental health resources are available to college students in the greater Lubbock area.

The school year is winding to an end for many districts, colleges, and universities, which means students across the country– and here in Lubbock– are cramming in final projects and taking final exams.

Along with finals week, comes finals stress. But nationally, educational institutions of every level are struggling to staff mental health counselors, and the entire state of Texas faces a shortage of care providers.

Most Texas elementary and secondary schools do not meet the recommended number of counselors or psychologists based on the number of students enrolled, as of 2023. According to the International Association of Counseling Services (IACS), most Texas colleges and universities also fall short in the number of counselors.

For colleges, the ICAS guidelines suggest one full-time professional staff member to every 1,000 to 1,500 students, also taking into account the other services offered.

Common reasons cited for the deficits are the higher workloads and lower pay associated with working at the college level. However, the state as a whole does not have enough mental health professionals to meet demand.

With increased conversations about staffing, retention, demand, and budgeting for college mental health services, we took a look at what mental health resources are available to college students in the greater Lubbock area.

South Plains College

Counseling Services at South Plains College are provided through the SPC Health & Wellness Center, which oversees mental health services, student health services, and disability services.

In addition to counseling, the center offers mental health screenings, seminars, training, wellness groups, consultations and referrals for outside services, scholarship opportunities, and social work—connecting students to resources such as the First Step Program.

Services at SPC are free and there is no limit to the number of sessions a student can request.

South Plains College has five counselors at its Levelland Campus, one at the Lubbock Downtown Center, and two to four Master-level interns per semester, according to SPC counselor Joanna Perez.

The college's website says South Plains sees an average annual enrollment of 9,500 students. Perez said the counselors see about 10% of the student population and hold about 2,000 sessions each semester.

The counseling office attends campus events to inform students about available services. Perez said students often find the South Plains’ Counseling Services through community support. Faculty may reach out to students to let them know what resources are available, and sometimes instructors or students walk other students into the office.

“It’s a little scary to walk into a counseling office. So having the support from their classmate or their instructor helps them,” she said.

Funding for Counseling Services comes from the college itself and from the Perkins Grant, Perez explained.

While the center did receive an additional counselor last year to help meet the needs of the students, especially following the increased utilization it saw during the pandemic, Perez said in terms of funding: “There’s never going to be enough, because there’s always going to be students in need. And that’s the reality of the world.”

Texas Tech University

The Texas Tech University Student Counseling Center offers individual, group, and couples counseling; interpersonal process groups; outreach services; training opportunities, with a focus on suicide prevention for incoming staff and community members, as well as many online resources.

TTU’s counseling center has no set number of sessions, but it follows a “brief counseling model,” which is based on short-term goals. So when a student reaches around 12 sessions, counselors typically start looking to transfer them to community care, according to the center’s managing director, Lisa Viator.

Online options with the university include a strategy and education program called Therapy Online Assistance, a 24/7 call and chat service called TELUS Health, and the Texas Tech Crisis Helpline.

Counseling services are free to students and do not require a copay, but Viator said there is a “no-show fee” for those who schedule an appointment and do not attend.

Texas Tech’s counseling center has 18 senior staff members, one embedded at Rawls College of Business, and one embedded at Horn-Knapp Residence Hall; four full-time psychology doctoral interns and one who is with the counseling center part-time and with the athletics department the rest of the time; and a varying number of practicum students, who see five to nine clients a week.

Viator said the office is trying to fill two new embedded positions this summer, one in Arts and Sciences, and one in Engineering.

According to Texas Tech’s Enrollment Management website, the university has 40,944 students enrolled.

On average, Viator estimated the counselors see about 2,000 unique students per calendar year.

In addition to the website, which students can visit to find resources and connect with the office, the Student Counseling Services partners with other departments on campus to raise awareness of resources, and does tabling at orientations and other events.

Viator said the counselors are also trying to dispel misinformation, such as exaggerated accounts of the waitlist to get an appointment. Which, in reality, only takes about six days or three to four weeks depending on a student’s availability during a busy time of year. Though the counseling center does triage people based on urgency. She also said the Student Counseling Center is at times confused with the counseling center at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, which is different.

The Student Counseling Center is funded through Student Health Services and through student service fees, Viator explained.

Retention has not been a major issue for Texas Tech’s counseling center, according to Viator. She said the biggest struggles it faces is hiring psychologists, which she attributes partially to the appeal and control that comes with private practice, and not having enough space for counselors.

Lubbock Christian University

The LCU Counseling Center provides mental health services for students, staff, faculty, and dependents. It offers individual and group counseling, premarital counseling, marriage counseling, alcohol and drug education and treatment, and psych evaluations.

The first counseling session is free and every subsequent session is $10.

Lubbock Christian University has two full-time counselors and one to two graduate student interns, according to John Maples, the director of the LCU Counseling Center.

As of spring 2023, LCU has 1,366 students enrolled, according to data from the university.

Maples said the counseling center typically serves around 12-16% of the enrolled population and usually 50-60% of its clients are on-campus students.

The counseling center tries to reach students in many ways, Maples explained. It does outreach via email announcements, social media posts, and at chapel; gives classroom presentations on mental health topics and the services offered by the office; and does outreach in athletics and connects with coaches. The center also provides training to help RA’s identify problems and get residents connected. Incoming and potential students can learn about the office during admissions tours, freshman orientation, and the university’s resource fair.

Funding comes from the university and the $10 sessions also help generate some revenue.

While the LCU Counseling Center does provide telehealth services, Maples said it operates predominantly in-person, which seems to be what the students prefer. During the pandemic, the center had to switch to entirely online services and utilization tanked as a result.

He said this may be due to students who found non-university telehealth counselors during the pandemic and chose to stay with that format, rather than transferring to a university counselor. Lisa Viator with Texas Tech University said she also found that students coming in after the pandemic who already had a counselor or therapist, chose to stay with that person while attending college.

Wayland Baptist University

Wayland Baptist University’s Counseling Services includes individual, couples, and career counseling, and Timely Care, a 24/7 virtual mental health service.

All services are free to students. And there is currently no limit on the number of sessions, though WBU’s director of counseling services, Brandy Heads, said she may need to put a cap on it due to demand.

As well as being director, Heads is the only full-time, in-person counselor at the university. She provides services for those at the Plainview campus, while those on external campuses can use Timely Care. The center also has one to two interns from the university’s counseling program.

According to the university website, Wayland’s Plainview campus has approximately 1,100 enrolled students.

As of mid-April, Heads said her office, herself and her intern, had conducted about 127 total sessions in the spring semester. In the time that she has worked at WBU, December 2020 to December 2023, Heads has held 1,344 sessions.

Heads and her secretary do outreach at orientation, registration, the university’s Pioneer Preview event for prospective students, and in freshman-level orientation classes. The office hangs signs in bathrooms and on bulletin boards, sends emails, and holds giveaways and interactive booths at student events. WBU also has a referral system called Pioneer Pulse, where they can request counselors check in on a student.

Funding for counseling services comes from the university. Due to the “limited budget,” Heads said she has to sacrifice when it comes to outreach and educational materials, like brochures and flyers, and materials for the giveaways, which promote the services and student wellness.

Funding for Timely Care comes out of student fees, meaning students who do not want to use it, can choose to opt out.

Timely Care has not been as successful as the university had hoped, Heads explained. Many students seem to prefer in-person counseling. Due to the cost of the service, Wayland may discontinue its contract with Timely Care. But Heads said being the only counselor means students may have to wait two or three weeks before getting an appointment, which results in losing clients who do not want to wait. She has also had to leave scheduled sessions to deal with a crisis.

Another major struggle faced by the WBU and its counselors is what Heads refers to as the “dual relationship.” As well as being a counselor, Heads is an adjunct instructor. So if a student from her class requests counseling, she has to refer them to another agency or to Timely Care.

Heads explained: “Many of the students here go to church at the same place that their professors go, or work out at the same gym, things like that. So I think the boundaries are pretty tough because of the size of our university.”

Discrepancies and Consistencies

Universities across Texas are grappling with the best way to provide for their students as well as their mental health staff.

Just in the greater Lubbock area, institutions of higher learning have different needs when it comes to staffing, space, budget, outreach, and desire for online care. But one thing that each college and university counselor had in common was a love of their job and a drive to find the best way to do so.

“Honestly, I love my job. Every day is different,” said South Plains College’s Joanna Perez. “I do enjoy what I do.”

“I love it,” said Texas Tech University’s Lisa Viator. “It’s never boring here.”

“I enjoy what I get to do so much,” said Lubbock Christian University’s John Maples. “It’s such an honorable position to be in. It is draining, it is exhausting work.”

“I love what I do,” said Wayland Baptist University’s Brandy Heads. “At the end of the day, I do enjoy what I do. It’s tiring sometimes.”

Samantha Larned is a reporter with KTTZ. Arizona-born and raised, she got her start at Arizona Public Media and moved to Lubbock after graduating from university. Samantha has a focus on culture and social issues journalism.