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Frequently Asked Questions

Where is Counseling Services?
We are on the 2nd floor of Kent, the last office suite at the north end of the hallway. We share a waiting room with Health Services.
Our location is intentional – we are at the end of the hallway, where traffic is low. We share a waiting area with Health Services in an effort to not allow passersby to automatically know whether a student is waiting for a counselor or a nurse. There is a building entrance and a stairwell on the north end of the building (by the Tri Delta House). Our office is immediately at the top of that stairwell, so that students don’t have to walk through the building to get to our office if they prefer.
*If you are aware that worry about being seen in our waiting area/using our services is keeping a student from visiting, please encourage that student to call or email to let us know that (or call us yourself), and we will work creatively to help resolve that concern as best we can.

What is available to students at Simpson?
• Up to 12 FREE individual, group, or couples counseling sessions available to all full-time and part-time students (including Continuing and Graduate students) at Simpson each academic year (session limits renew at the beginning of each new academic year). Counseling Services employs two full-time and one part-time counselor on campus to meet with students Monday through Friday between 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.
• In addition to scheduled appointments, counselors are available to speak with a student in crisis. If an emergency occurs during business hours, a counselor can meet with a student immediately. If an emergency occurs outside of business hours, the offices of Campus Security or Residence Life can reach a counselor.
• Counselors are also available to provide consultation for students who may be seeking support in helping a friend or a loved one. Counselors can provide guidance in having a difficult conversation with a friend, help a student to better understand a mental health concern, or support a student through their own experience of providing support.
• Counseling Services can provide information regarding off campus referrals and community resources.

What is available to others who are concerned about a Simpson student?
Counselors are available to consult with concerned others (family, friends, faculty, staff, etc.) who are unsure of how to respond to or help a student they believe to be distressed. Counselors can:
o provide guidance in having conversations with students about mental health issues
o offer assistance in how to suggest that a student visit with Counseling Services
o provide general mental health information
o offer information regarding community and crisis resources

How do you make students aware of the services available to them on campus?
In addition to outreach on campus, we visit 100% of SC101 classes. During those visits, we introduce ourselves to students, explain our services, and talk with students interactively about reasons a student might utilize our services. We also talk with students about how to support friends, how to suggest counseling to friends, and how to respond to concerns which might make a person hesitate to attend counseling. The goals of these presentations are to increase awareness of our services, normalize counseling, and reduce barriers to utilizing services. We have had positive responses to these presentations, and often have students schedule appointments after we attend their class.
We are always open to new ideas in this area!

Will someone from Counseling Services come speak at a meeting if we ask?
YES!! If you have a specific topic about which you would like to learn more, or if you are looking for general information or a chance to ask questions, we would LOVE to come speak to you.
If you are aware of a student group that may benefit from the same, please let them know that we would LOVE to come speak to them as well!

What will happen if a student requests to schedule an appointment?
Students who wish to schedule can either call (961-1332) or email (counseling.services@simpson.edu) to make that request. Students are welcome to stop into the office to schedule as well, but if all counselors are in session at that time, and the student is not experiencing a life-threatening crisis, they will be asked to call or email instead.
Once Counseling Services receives the message, the student will receive a response listing the available times for appointments within a week and asking the student to send a 1st and 2nd choice in return. [*Students can shorten that process if they wish by including their own availability for approximately the next 5 business days in their initial message.] The student will then receive a confirmation of their appointment.

What does a counseling appointment look like?
For a student’s first appointment, s/he will be asked to arrive approximately 20 minutes early to complete paperwork (on a tablet). After finishing paperwork, s/he will meet with a counselor for about 30 minutes. Most often, the first appointment entails getting to know the student, personal history, family history, etc. During that appointment, the counselor and student will discuss what brought the student in, and plan together for the next best steps (scheduling again, referral, etc.).
When a student arrives for the rest of her/his counseling appointments, s/he will check in at our front window, complete a very short (less than 2 minutes) questionnaire on the tablet, and then meet with the counselor for 45-50 minutes.

If a student prefers, can someone come with them to their appointment?
Yes. If students are more comfortable meeting with a friend, parent, mentor, significant other, etc. present, they are more than welcome to bring that person along. That person can either sit in on the session, wait in the waiting area, or simply walk over with her/him.
*Please note that, if you are walking a student over to Counseling Services, it can be helpful to call ahead (x1332). Especially during our busiest times of the year, it can be difficult to find a counselor immediately available for a walk in. If you know you will be meeting with a student and suggesting counseling, calling ahead can allow Counseling Services to let you know when counselors’ schedules are open that day so you can schedule your meeting accordingly if you’d like.
* If a student is in a life-threatening crisis (e.g., actively suicidal or homicidal) and all counselors are in session, please let our front window attendant know (or call x1592). Counselors will leave on-going sessions to help a student in an emergency.

Why doesn’t Counseling Services call students who have been referred?
We have found that students are generally less receptive and more likely to respond defensively to a cold-call from Counseling Services if they have no relationship with this office, and, subsequently, are less likely to schedule or participate in services.
Referrals are more successful if they come from a person who has a positive relationship with that student, and can explain their reasoning for the referral in a supportive, caring way. We are very happy to help that person plan and develop the words to use when making a referral.
*While, due to limits of confidentiality, we cannot confirm or deny to a caller if it is applicable, please know that if a student DOES have a current or prior relationship with a counselor in our office, we generally DO reach out to that student if we hear a concern (it is our policy in doing so to share with the student who brought the concern to our attention).
*We will always take steps to maintain safety if that is a concern. That is, if a student is in a life-threatening crisis, and encouragement by others is not successful, our office may reach out to that student.

Why can’t Counseling Services tell me if a student attended an appointment to which I referred her/him?
Our staff is required by ethical and legal obligation to restrict the sharing of counseling-related information. This means that we cannot share information with you about their contact with Counseling Services. Confidentiality is an important part of the relationship we establish and maintain with students in counseling.
We understand that confidentiality requirements are often a source of frustration for supporters of the student. However, unless the student has given written consent, we cannot confirm or deny that a student has come to Counseling Services for counseling, share the name of their counselor, or provide any details as to their involvement with Counseling Services, even if the student has already provided those details to you. If you believe it is important to talk to the student’s counselor, we encourage you to speak with the student about your concerns and ask them to sign a release of information form at Counseling Services. Students reserve the right to choose to limit the involvement of others in their services at our office. You are also welcome to talk with a counselor about your wish for a student to complete a release of information—in most situations in which a student is already a client, we are happy to ask them if they would like to sign a release for a particular individual.

I just want to share something about a student with a counselor, but I don’t necessarily want to learn anything about what s/he has said to the counselor. Can I do that?
Yes, you are free to leave information with a counselor any time you would like to do so. Counselors may listen to anything you have to share about a student (but can only provide information in response if written consent is given by the student).
If the student about whom you are sharing IS a client in our office, information a counselor receives about that student will be shared with her/him, unless doing so puts any person’s life in danger. We understand that this can be frustrating, but counseling is most beneficial when a student feels that s/he can trust their counselor and knows that their counselor will be open and honest with her/him. If a student were to later learn that a counselor spoke about them with another individual and was not open about that conversation, the trust on which therapy is dependent is eroded and it is difficult for therapy to be useful. Finally, it is also very difficult to use information you’ve provided in a constructive manner if we are unable to identify from where that information originated.

What if a student refuses to go to counseling?
Remember that a student has the right to accept or refuse a referral. If a student refuses and does not appear to be in immediate danger to self or others, accept their decision, but consider approaching the student again in the future to express concern if you continue to notice signs of distress.
It can be helpful to talk with the student about their hesitations to attend counseling. After learning their reasoning, you may be able to talk through concerns with them. For example, some students worry that others will learn about what they discuss in counseling, and they might get into trouble as a result. In that case, explaining the confidentiality of counseling might help them to be more comfortable with the idea.
Our staff is available to talk with students about their questions or concerns before scheduling. We’re happy to help students know what to expect of talking with a counselor or address any worries the best that we can.
Counseling Services is also available to you if you would like to talk through or get suggestions as to approaches toward suggesting counseling to a student, or how to support a student in other ways if they choose to refuse counseling.
In addition, you may choose to speak to the Director of Residence Life/Dean of Students, Luke Behaunek (so that the student’s CA or other campus resources could check in with the student), or Chaplain Mara Bailey to talk about ways of otherwise supporting the student.
Please continue to check in with the student about their emotional well-being on a regular basis. However, try to avoid pressuring the student. Getting into a heated discussion is typically less effective or productive than having open, honest communication.
If you believe the student poses an immediate danger to themselves or others, call Counseling Services, Campus Security, or 911.

What if a student is in a life-threatening crisis outside of Counseling Services business hours?
If after hours, contact Campus Security at 515-961-1711 or the police at 911. Campus Security, the Dean of Students, and Administration have access to Counseling Services contacts after hours.
If an emergency occurs during business hours, please contact Counseling Services and ask to speak to a counselor immediately.
**Even during business hours, if a person is in medical danger (i.e., already attempted suicide), PLEASE CALL 911 FIRST before calling Counseling Services. It is important that medical responders can arrive as quickly as possible.**

How should I handle a student who is disruptive in class?

Faculty members have the authority to manage their classrooms and establish reasonable guidelines for discussions so that everyone has the opportunity to participate. If a student behaves inappropriately, but not disruptively, consider speaking to him or her in private as opposed to singling out the student in class. If your student’s behavior is overly distracting, it may be necessary for you to correct them in the moment, and then invite them to talk with you more after class.

You can ask a student to leave the classroom if the behavior begins to interfere with your ability to teach, or the other students’ ability to learn. The student should be provided with an explanation of why he or she was asked to leave and then given the appropriate opportunity to discuss the matter further when it is practical. If the situation becomes resistant or threatening, contact security for assistance.

What should I do if a student turns in assignments with threatening, violent or disturbing content?

Though there are many ways in which an individual expresses him/herself, the presence of disturbing content in student work may indicate an effort, albeit distorted and unconscious, to communicate something of deep personal importance. We recommend that you consult with your department supervisor, Student Development and/or Counseling Services prior to making any decisions about how to handle this type of content. Though more often than not disturbing content in students’ work is not related to harmful behaviors, the worst response to this type of content is no response at all.

When you contact Counseling Services and Student Development we will work with you to determine if the student’s expressions are evidence of severe mental illness, if the student is a danger to self or others, or if some type of treatment or intervention is warranted. It is important to note that communicating with your own department as well as with Counseling Services and Student Development in general regarding student concerns is an essential aspect of keeping our students and our campus safe. A student will only receive the appropriate care if individuals are willing to share their concerns and do not attempt to handle things on their own.

Are more students coming to college with mental disorders?

Probably yes, but further explanation is required here. Increases in counseling center visits and use of psychotropic medications may actually represent higher numbers of students coming to college with mental disorders. Or, those data may mean that contemporary students are more willing to seek help for mental illness. In any event, college health center directors have been calling particular attention to larger numbers of students reporting characteristics of clinical depression. A 2004 American College Health Association study found that 45% of the students surveyed felt so depressed that they found it difficult to function. Nearly 10% of students reported that such feelings occurred 9 or more times in the past school year.

School shootings are often suicides. How widespread is suicide among college students?

Multiple studies have found that college students commit suicide at half the rate of their non-student peers. One of the most cited surveys “found an overall student suicide rate of 7.5 per 100,000, compared to the national average of 15 per 100,000 in a sample matched for age, race and gender” (Silverman, et al., 1997, “The Big Ten Student Suicide Study: A 10-year study of suicides on Midwestern university campuses,” Suicides and Life Threatening Behavior 27 [3]: 285-303).

Is suicide widespread among college students, and how frequent are unsuccessful suicide attempts within this population?

A 2006 article by Paul S. Applebaum, Professor and Director of the Division of Psychiatry, Law and Ethics at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons (and past President of the American Psychiatric Association) shares some information regarding this:

No matter how uncommon completed suicides are among college students, surveys suggest that suicidal ideation and attempts are remarkably prevalent. Two large scale studies generated nearly identical findings. Roughly 10 percent of college student respondents indicated that they had thought about suicide in the past year, and 1.5 percent admitted to having made a suicide attempt. (Psychiatric Services: “Depressed? Get Out!” July 2006, 57, 914-916).

How can I identify potentially violent students?

This is not a task to be undertaken alone. Expertise is available on campus to help. See the “Who to contact if…” section for essential resources and phone numbers and be sure to read the section on “The Student Exhibiting Verbal Aggression and Violence.”

It is important to resist the desire to profile potentially violent students based on media reports of past shootings. The 2003 National Research Council report Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence contains the following guidelines:

The difficulty is that… [t]he offenders are not that unusual; they look like their classmates at school. This has been an important finding of all those who have sought to investigate these shootings. Most important are the findings of the United States Secret Service, which concluded:
There is no accurate or useful profile of the ‘school shooter’…

A more promising approach is the “threat assessment,” based on analysis of observable behavior—what a student actually or reportedly said or did—compiled from multiple sources and reviewed by a trained threat assessment team. The report “Threat Assessment in Schools: A Guide to Managing Threatening Situations and to Creating Safe School Climates (developed by the U.S. Secret Service and Department of Education in 2002) contains the following overview:

Students and adults who know the student who is the subject of the threat assessment inquiry should be asked about communications or other behaviors that may indicate the student of concern’s ideas or intent. The focus of these interviews should be factual:

  • What was said? To whom?
  • What was written? To whom?
  • What was done?
  • When and where did this occur?
  • Who else observed this behavior?
  • Did the student say why he or she acted as they did?

Proper threat assessment is a team effort requiring expertise from experienced individuals. Threat assessment on our campus is done by Heidi Levine, Vice President for Student Development; Luke Behaunek, Dean of Students; and Ellie Olson, Associate Dean of Counseling, Health, and Leadership. Additional individuals from the offices of Residence Life, Student Support Services, the Chapel, Academic Affairs, Health Services, Security, and/or others will be brought in on a case by case basis, depending on the situation. It is always better to err on the side of caution and make a report than to not report a potential concern.  Faculty and Staff should contact the Vice President for Student Development (515-961-1617) or the Associate Dean of Counseling, Health, and Leadership (515-961-1556) whenever they are concerned about whether a student may pose a risk of violence to self or others. Campus Security (515-961-1711) should be contacted after hours and in the event of an emergency.