Counseling resources available to students

Kayla McLane

No concern is too small or too big for staff at NMU’s free Counseling and Consultation Center, said Marie Aho, Ph.D., licensed clinical psychologist and department head.

“We deal with the whole array of needs that our students would have. Every individual need is as important as every other individual need,” Aho said.

In any given academic year, the center helps between 500 and 550 students and holds 2,600 to 3,400 individual appointments.

The Counseling and Consultation Center, located at 3405 C.B. Hedgcock, is available free of charge to all currently enrolled NMU students, no health insurance required. Common concerns for students coming to the Counseling and Consultation Center include stress, adjustment to independence and adulthood, relationship problems, substance abuse, career and life goal guidance, and depression and anxiety, according to the counseling center’s website.

The center’s five full-time and one part-time fully licensed professionals are able to work with diagnosable issues such as bipolar disorder and depression and serious instances of suicidal thoughts or actions, but most of what the center’s staff deals with are developmental issues, family issues, social anxieties and other common stresses students face, Aho said. Students can call to make an appointment,  walk-in directly to the center or request to be escorted by Public Safety officers.

“There is no wrong door to access to the center,” Aho said.

When students make their first contact with the counseling center, they fill out an informational packet with basic contact information and their concerns. The packet is then assessed by staff members to determine the severity of the situation. Each specific case is reviewed for individual and unique needs. In cases of emotional emergencies, a safety check can be performed immediately. The center holds daily emotional crisis times open for instances when students need same-day appointments, Aho said.

Once the case is assessed, the center uses a triage system to set up appointments, Aho said. Additionally, students’ schedules and availability is reviewed to match them with an available counselor.

“People with acute needs get in sooner, but we do our best to get everybody in as soon as possible,” Aho said.

For most of the school year, the counseling center sets up appointments with students with no waiting list, Aho said. Toward the end of the semester with the busy nature of finals approaching, the demand for services increases, and a small wait is possible. Often the students who wait are offered an earlier appointment that doesn’t match with their class schedule, Aho said.

At the end of the semester, students are faced with greater stress because finals are drawing near and final projects and papers are due.

In addition, students are coming out of a dark season of winter in which they haven’t been able to spend time in the sun or outdoors.

“We always have an increased need as we are coming up into finals,” Aho said. “A lot of mental strain and fewer physical outlets tend to make people more

Many students utilize the center intermittently throughout their time at Northern. When offered an appointment, students are given their preference of counselor based on who they might have seen in the past, and are also given the choice of speaking with a male or female counselor. There are no limits on the number of sessions a student can have while at Northern, and the center has never operated with such restrictions, Aho said.

The counseling center is 100 percent confidential. Without student written permission, the center can neither confirm nor deny whether a student has received counseling through the center to anyone who might ask, including parents, Aho said.

“The university supports [the center], and that’s a fabulous thing,” Aho said. “That’s another way that the university does everything it can to support student success.”

The 2014-15 academic year budget for the counseling and consultation center was $404,148. This school year, the budget was $588,677. The difference between the two budgets is the addition of two fully-funded permanent counselor positions to the center’s staff, said Gavin Leach, vice president for Finance and Administration. Other Michigan schools including Saginaw Valley State University, Central Michigan University and Michigan Tech also have confidential counseling services offered to students free of charge.

“There is an increasing demand for service, which I consider to be a really good thing because awareness is being raised, stigmas are being reduced and people are understanding the benefits,” Aho said.

The counseling center is open during the fall and winter semesters Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The center also has limited summer hours. The center is not staffed to accommodate after hour services; therefore, it relies on community resources as do many other campuses, Aho said.

NMU counseling and consultation center works with outside resources to provide students help outside of their open hours.