The University of Iowa
The University of Iowa News Services Home News Releases UI in the News Subscribe to UI News Contact Us


100 Old Public Library
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0011; fax (319) 384-0024

Release: Oct. 25, 2000

UI study shows U.S. college students receive quality mental health care

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Contrary to the assertions of some critics, university counseling centers are well-equipped to provide high-quality mental health services to students. According to a new report by University of Iowa researchers, these centers are staffed with well-trained professionals with advanced degrees who engage in formal, structured assessments of each new client and who are prepared to address the range of mental health issues students face. The study has been published in the October issue of the Journal of Counseling Psychology.

Gerald Stone, the director of UI Counseling Services and lead investigator for the study, said this is the first time anyone has evaluated the state of campus counseling centers using data, rather than anecdotal evidence. The study is based on survey responses from 114 campus counseling centers at public, private, large, and small universities in 38 states.

Among the findings:

* 94 percent of campus counseling centers in the U.S. have counselors with doctoral degrees in clinical or counseling psychology on staff

* 28 percent of campus counseling centers have a medical doctor on staff

* a majority of counseling centers use psychologists or psychiatrists to make diagnoses

* 92 percent of campus counseling centers conduct some form of intake interview, with 61 percent conducting a structured formal interview asking the same questions of each new client

* a majority of campus counseling center staff members are trained to work with the range of problems students frequently encounter including eating disorders, mood disorders, sexual abuse, substance abuse, sexual orientation, and multicultural issues

* a majority of campus counseling centers refer clients to other services only if they require psychiatric care the center does not offer, if they require long-term therapy, or if the staff is not trained to deal with their presenting issue

These findings run counter to a series of criticisms, including those made by a Johns Hopkins University psychiatrist in a 1998 opinion article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. (Subscribers to The Chronicle can find the article online at Stone said that when he read the article he felt that the writer was off-base, but he didn't have statistical proof.

So he asked Kristin M. Vespia and Jason E. Kanz, both UI Ph.D. students in counseling psychology to work with him to design and carry out a survey of members of the Association of University and College Counseling Center Directors (AUCCCD).

Now he has the hard facts to back up that first gut feeling: "Our data are not consistent with the critics' opinions," he said.

While Stone said the data indicate that counseling centers are doing "reasonably well" when judged on the factors pointed out in the 1998 article, he acknowledged that there is still room for improvement.

"Counseling centers should look at this study as a way of addressing their own limitations as well as recognizing their strengths," he wrote in the report.

In particular, he said, counseling centers need to do a better job of following up with clients referred to psychiatric treatments or other specialized care. He also suggests the development of a mental health information and data-based system, under which counseling centers would "use electronic data systems, appropriate forms, and standardized outcome measures to meet the increasing demands for accountability and criticism by other professional groups."

Stone also called for a national field study of mental health on campus involving a few selected public and private college and universities of varying sizes that offer different types of counseling centers.

"We need to thoroughly investigate what is actually going on and then make recommendations," he said. "To assume we know, to assume counseling centers are not meeting a standard of care is wrong-headed."

(EDITORS: Stone can provide copies of the full report; his phone number is (319) 335-7294. The Journal of Counseling Psychology owns the copyright so anyone wishing reprint graphics must receive permission from Karen Thomas, APA Permissions, Fax 202-336-5549.)