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Counseling Services provides safe space for students

| Gary Johnson

Photo caption: Students at 12 UW System universities have access to a UW System telehealth service and 26% of the users were from UW-Eau Claire.

Blugolds have an award-winning Counseling Services staff to help them deal with the stress of college life.

The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s Counseling Services, which received the UW System Board of Regents 2021 Regents Diversity Award for its work, provides multiple services for students with mental health issues, including intakes, individual and group counseling, couples counseling, online workshops, drop-in crisis counseling, alcohol and other drug abuse (AODA) assessments, first-offenders alcohol education program, eating disorder assessments, ADHD assessments, case management and outreach.

Riley McGrath

Dr. Riley McGrath, director of Counseling Services

“Oftentimes, when you are dealing with a mental health concern, you’re thinking you’re the only one dealing with something like this,” says Dr. Riley McGrath, director of Counseling Services. “When you can meet a group of other people that also are dealing with issues, it’s going to very empowering. You can see their eyes light up in group when they realize people can relate to you.”

In 2022-23, Counseling Services staff held 5,504 appointments with 1,079 students, with each student visiting an average of five times.

The top concerns among UW-Eau Claire students who receive support at Counseling Services are anxiety, stress and depression, according to the department’s 2022-23 annual report.

Feedback from surveys each semester indicates that support from Counseling Services makes a difference in students’ college careers. Following are some responses from students who accessed services:

  •     “It was a safe space where I could talk about my problems with a trusted person.”
  •     “It was a very nonjudgmental and supportive environment that allowed me to be open and work through issues I hadn’t felt comfortable addressing in the past.”
  •     “I liked how personal it was and how safe I felt. This was the first time seeing a therapist and I can honestly say it was a good experience.”
  •     “I appreciate counseling so much because of the ability of my counselor to listen, truly hear me and help me dissect what I needed help with. I was made to feel grounded, safe, and I was able to work on a lot of different things, all of which were affecting my ability to do well in class.”

Ashley Walton-Beal, Counseling Services counselor, intern supervisor, and alcohol and AODA coordinator

“Getting students through to graduation is a great and rewarding part of our job,” says Ashley Walton-Beal, a counselor, intern supervisor, and alcohol and AODA coordinator at Counseling Services. “I know we have had students share that they would not have been able to graduate without some extra support and we are so honored to be able to be that for many students on campus.”

UW-Eau Claire students have another avenue for services through a $5 million, American Rescue Plan Act-funded UW System telehealth option to help address student mental health needs that were exacerbated by the pandemic. The telehealth option offers 24-hour crisis support, telecounseling and telepsychiatry, and also provides weekend and after-hours services that allow students who may have internships, student teaching or nursing rotations to access services at more convenient times.

Thanks to extensive promotion of the telehealth option by Counseling Services and the Dean of Students Office, UW-Eau Claire has been the most frequent user of the telehealth services since they began in November 2022, with 185 Blugolds using the online counseling. Students at 12 UW System universities have access to the service and 26% of the users were from UW-Eau Claire.

In 2023, Counseling Services underwent an extensive review process of its programming to receive its International Accreditation for Counseling Services, a recognition that McGrath refers to as “a nice stamp of approval for what we are doing.” The accreditation process included a site visit and multiple board reviews.

“It is the gold standard of college counseling,” McGrath says. “It gives us a good playbook to follow to know what is recommended in our field.”