Representation matters, especially on college campuses.
When a student connects with someone who shares a similar background and/or experiences–whether pertaining to race, class, sex, ability, geography, or for any other reason–they are likely to feel seen and heard. Research shows that (for better or worse) we tend to trust people like ourselves, in part because interactions “feel more fluent and easier to process.” For college students, this kind of recognition can not only be comforting, but lifesaving.
Colleges and universities can offer this crucial sense of familiarity and meet the clinical preferences of their broad student body by offering more diverse care. College counseling centers can also train on-campus mental health professionals in cultural humility so they can sensitively work with students whose experiences they might not fully understand.
Here are four key areas that can be addressed to improve the student experience:
Seek Out More Racially Diverse Providers
Students of color are vastly underserved in college counseling offices and in the wider realm of mental healthcare. A 2019 survey from the American Psychological Association (APA) reveals that about 83% of the U.S. psychology workforce is white. The second largest group at 7% are Hispanic, 4% are Asian, and just 3% are Black. This is a far cry from racial parity. In an equitable workforce, 60% of practitioners would be white, 18% Hispanic or Latino/a, 13% Black, 6% Asian, and 3% with other racial makeup, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Recognize the Unique Needs of Students with Disabilities
While only 5% of psychologists have disabilities, 25% of the U.S. population has a disability. The shortage of counselors who identify as disabled is real, according to this essay by wheelchair-user and psychotherapist Lauren Presutti. Research sponsored by the American Counseling Association invites counselors to equip themselves to understand the nuanced needs of clients with disabilities. Here’s what clinicians can do:
- Use proper language to describe the client and their disability
- Identify personal and societal barriers encountered by individuals with disabilities
- Help the client adjust to and overcome those barriers
- Devise a theoretical framework to understanding life with a disability
- Learn counseling techniques to enhance therapeutic effectiveness
- Be mindful of general counseling tips when working with students with disabilities
According to the ACA, “Counselors who employ this information and these recommendations as a part of their therapeutic relationships, open themselves up to the possibility of learning about the experience and ‘voice’ of disability.”
Increase Accessibility for Students Facing Financial Hardships
The number one reason students drop out is due to finances, and students emerging from poverty face an increased risk of leaving. Many students, especially those with a low socioeconomic background, are battling economic challenges, ranging from housing instability to food insecurity. Some can’t afford to take time off work, need specialized mental health care which they can’t afford, or experience distrust of mental health professionals.
One of the many ways college counseling centers can expand their diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts and make mental health care more accessible is through service expansions. It’s not always possible to find local providers with diverse backgrounds or specialized training. Telehealth providers, however, can work with counseling centers to provide sessions after-hours and offer more diverse providers who share students’ backgrounds and/or experiences.
Take Actionable Steps Toward Equitable Offerings
There are many other student populations in greater need of support, including LGBTQ+ students, first-generation college students, and international students, many of whom experience loneliness, homesickness, or fear of discrimination.
The good news? Colleges and universities can take concrete, measurable steps to improve the quality of mental health care for students. Here are some recommended actions guided in part from the NACAC:
- Review admissions policies to ensure your practices are equitable
- Hire diverse clinicians and other campus staff that mirror the student population
- Prioritize funding for DEI positions and implement diverse hiring protocols
- Train clinicians with sensitivity so they are better equipped to work with underserved populations
- Build partnerships with telehealth providers and community organizations that can provide additional support for students
- Refine your institutional statements so they better reflect your values
- Promote a culture of belonging among staff and students by developing a network of diverse representatives across all departments and providing clear opportunities for advancement
- Foster pathways to leadership for all students through workshops, award recognition, and collaborative opportunities that elicit their strengths
“Students need to see themselves reflected in the face of postsecondary education,” a 2022 report from the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) confirms. It is critical for colleges and universities to offer diverse student outreach and care.
At Mantra Health, we have employed a diverse provider network. Our therapists and psychiatrists are experts in young adult mental health, trained in cultural humility, and offer unique specializations to better meet the needs of college students. To find more about our services and how to enhance your college counseling programs, learn more here.