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Embedded Counseling May Deliver More Effective Help to Students

Could counselors embedded into specific academic programs help students stay on track with their studies and help them better deal with stress and anxiety during college and afterwards? That was the thinking when the University of Missouri embedded a counseling center psychologist within the College of Veterinary Medicine. Kerry Karaffa provides tailored counseling services for students training to become veterinarians, an occupation in which practitioners are at increased risk for mental health concerns and suicide compared to most other professions.

Along with Tamara Hancock, an assistant teaching professor at the university, in 2019 Karaffa surveyed 573 veterinary medical students enrolled in accredited veterinary medical programs in the United States. About a third of the participants reported levels of depression or anxiety "above the clinical cut-off." That research was published in the Journal of Veterinary Medical Education.

As a follow-up, Karaffa, Hancock and Jennifer Bradtke, director of the Counseling Center at the Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine, developed and distributed a survey to other counselors specifically working within veterinary medical programs at other institutions around the country. Their hope was to better understand the benefits of embedded counseling and to create a blueprint for practicing counselors and college administrators considering such services in other high-stress programs or colleges, such as medical and law schools.

The research concluded that embedded counseling services provided a convenient way to increase accessibility to mental health services for students with demanding schedules. As Karaffa explained in a university article, being embedded gives him "a greater understanding of the challenges veterinary medical students have" and better prepares him "to tailor services to meet the needs of the students."

Plus, the fact that his office is located "just down the hall" means students with tight schedules won't have to go all the way across campus to the official counseling center for help.

Karaffa offered several suggestions for developing and sustaining these services. First, institutions need to consider logistical factors of office space and information technology resources, as well as ethical and practice challenges, and the need "to hire licensed, well-qualified counselors." To make for a smoother transition, the counselors need support via mentorship and professional development.

Karaffa said that he believes improving accessibility to counseling services could benefit students even after graduation. "People who are psychologically healthy tend to be happier with their jobs and do better work," he noted. "They also tend to have happier relationships, so early intervention and prevention work is always better than waiting until a small problem turns into a big one."

The latest research was reported in the Journal of College Counseling.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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