I’m a big proponent of therapy. I think everyone benefits from taking the time to talk and reflect with someone who is a confidential resource. Mental health needs to be taken seriously, especially on college campuses. According to a 2020 study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 74.9 percent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 24 reported having at least one adverse mental or behavioral health symptom. While St. Olaf provides free therapy to students, it is one of the few services that has not transitioned back to being in-person. In order to make the Counseling Center more effective, St. Olaf needs to resume in-person appointments.
During my first year at St. Olaf, I made my way down to Boe House every other week for counseling appointments. Boe House used to reside just down the hill on Ole Avenue before it was torn down. It wasn’t built like your average counseling center in a boxy building, but instead was a house. The office where I had appointments had two huge comfortable armchairs and simple decorations on the wall. Two windows provided ample light, and it was an easy place to open up about my stress and what was weighing on my mind.
This year we have seen a slight return to normalcy on campus. Restrictions have been adapted, classes are being held in-person, and the mask mandate has even been lifted. As life gets a little closer to what it used to be, the Counseling Center continues to only hold appointments over Zoom.
I want to acknowledge that I have had really positive experiences both in-person and online with counselors through St. Olaf. However, there are some aspects of in-person counseling that make it far better. As students on a residential campus, we learn in the same place we work, eat, socialize, and rest. Having a separate space to do therapy made it easier for me to step away from the same on-campus stressors I was addressing in counseling. I would use the time to walk down the Rolvaag steps to think through what I wanted to talk about, and I would use my hike back up to campus as a time to collect my thoughts and take a breath.
While it is wonderful that Boe House moved online during the COVID-19 pandemic instead of halting services, it presented students with the challenge of finding private spaces on campus to talk. While I am lucky enough to live in a double room, many students are in triples and quads which makes it harder to coordinate finding a time for private counseling appointments. Students are allowed to reserve Buntrock 145 to do their appointments, but it doesn’t have the same appeal as a counseling office. Opening up to someone you’ve only met through a screen is hard. The counselors I’ve had over Zoom do a great job of trying to create that comfort with the students they work with, but sometimes technological barriers show it isn’t the same as being face to face. Counselors just can’t pass tissues through a laptop screen.
While I am grateful that St. Olaf provides free counseling to their students, it should be one of the first, not last services to transition back to in-person meetings.
Zoë Miller is from Iowa City, Iowa.
Her majors are English and