By Payton Carns

In 2018, The Louisville Cardinal last reported on the University of Louisville Counseling Center and its waitlist of more than 100 people — so large that the center had to stop taking appointments altogether.

Five years, an interim director, and one location change later, the center has dropped the list to 30 people. The system, however, is far from perfect. Students in crisis can find themselves waiting for therapy appointments for up to two to three weeks. 

With so many students struggling — and with counseling embedded into U of L’s tuition— this should make for a great, life-saving method for students needing psychological support — in theory. For the over 23,000 students enrolled, services provided by the Counseling Center are essential, but sometimes not guaranteed.

A growing waitlist

The waitlist refers to students who have yet to be contacted for the initial triage appointment, which evaluates the type of care the student needs. This is before the student even gets an initial assessment with a counselor to dig deeper into their concerns about their mental health.

Following the initial evaluation, the student can finally organize a more set schedule for their therapy appointments. For more worried, struggling students, however, the amount of time the process can possibly take can be daunting. Dr. Geeta Gulati has been serving as interim director of the Counseling Center since July of this year, an added role to her current position as Associate Director of Clinical Services.

Gulati’s position was created in order to expedite clinical services and lower wait times for potential patients. According to Gulati, the triage appointments, which are currently all virtual, are set up to meet with as many students as possible in order to assess their needs. “My goal as interim director is that each person that calls gets the opportunity to meet with a therapist,” she said.

Even so, she recognizes that this is not always the case.

Junior Abby Griggs, for example, has been in contact with the Counseling Center since her freshman year. In the fall of 2021, she attempted to contact them for an initial triage appointment but waited so long for a call back that she ended up canceling her appointment altogether. “I didn’t know how it worked back then, so I was like ‘there’s no point,’” she said. By sophomore year, though, Griggs was in need of an intervention. Displaying clear symptoms of anxiety, depression, and ADHD, she began to struggle emotionally and academically.

In the fall of 2022, Griggs took a more direct approach and went in person to the office to schedule a triage appointment. Even then, it took about a month for her to hear back about scheduling one. Although the center offered a more emergent consultation “if she really needed it,” Griggs struggled with the worry of not being “emergent” enough to qualify. She feared she may be taking the spot of someone who needed it more.

Griggs’ partner, Jaedon Boggs, expressed similar concerns about the Counseling Center appointment process. She contacted the center the summer after her freshman year after struggling with depression and PTSD symptoms during the months prior. She also experienced delayed wait times, and when she finally got matched with her therapist, she was not sure if it was the right fit.

Although Boggs felt like the center was apprehensive about her switching counselors — she got the impression she would have to “start the process over” — Gulati confirmed they try to make the transition as seamless as possible. Even so, the amount of time it would take to get her scheduled with another therapist did not align with her mental health timeline.

Griggs and Boggs agree that the Counseling Center runs into these problems partly because of the limited number of therapists readily available to speak to students. Per their website, there are a total of 12 clinicians who regularly take student clients. For a school with a student population of over 23,000, that ratio is harrowing. “There are obviously struggles [in] keeping up with the amount of students with mental health issues,” Boggs said. “There’s just not enough people to accommodate the university.”

Gulati recognizes the frustration with increased wait times, but she also said they try to refer students to local resources based on the student’s specific concerns. “We contract with Merdian Behavioral Health, which is a local private practice,” she said. “We send some cases there based on their specialties.”

Gulati stated that the center is only set up for “brief therapy, and less for longer-term therapy,” so more specialized, long-term cases are more likely to be referred.

Perhaps the university can look to the athletic department for ways to alleviate these problems. There are about 600 athletes at UofL — to put that into perspective, athletes make up only about 2.6% of the student population. In the summer of 2022, U of L Health announced they would be partnering with the athletic department to add 10 new mental health professionals to assist student-athletes alone. 

Putting the numbers into perspective

In addition, the services offered through the center falter compared to other universities. For example, North Carolina State, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Cincinnati — all three universities in urban areas comparable in size to Louisville — have a few more comprehensive services.

Infographic highlighting the services provided at counseling centers at other universities.

As outlined in the graphic, all three schools have a slightly larger student population than the University of Louisville does. However, the amount of students should not change the access to comprehensive mental health resources. Embedded counseling refers to counselors embedded in the specific colleges at the university that help students in their program. They are placed in different buildings around campus so the student can find them at their convenience based on the college they belong to. Pittsburgh, for example, added embedded counselors to their residence halls in 2019.

The Positives

The mental health resources at the University of Louisville are in clear need of improvement.

However, the center has made efforts to improve the students’ access to their services. Before this week, UofL’s Counseling Center did not have a built-in crisis hotline for students and instead just listed the national crisis hotlines on their website.

Oct. 16 marked the launch of their after-hours answering service for students in mental health crises. “They’re not just an ‘answering service’ but they’re a crisis line too,” Gulati said. “We have trained therapists, both bachelor’s and master’s level, available to work with the students on whatever mental health needs they may have.”

Gulati cited increased support from new UofL president Kim Schatzel to prioritize the expansion of mental health services on campus. “This is President Schatzel’s initiative to ensure that we have [the hotline],” Gulati said. “It is a cost, but that is something that they’re taking care of.”

Both Griggs and Boggs also want to emphasize the ways in which the Counseling Center has helped them during their time at the university. Once Griggs finally got matched with a counselor, she had a very positive experience with her.

One benefit Boggs cited was the utilization of an emergency consultation. Because the Counseling Center cannot prescribe medication, students are referred to U of L Health to make an appointment with a psychiatrist. When Boggs was referred, she was told it would take three weeks to get an appointment, and she couldn’t wait that long.

She then took the initiative of setting up an emergency consultation during the center’s business hours, eventually getting a psychiatrist appointment in a matter of days. “It felt like they were really trying to help me,” Boggs said. “Because she called [the psychiatrist] and got me an ASAP clinical appointment. So pulling strings for certain students in need does happen.”

Moving Forward

The Counseling Center office is located in the Student Activities Center Suite W204 and is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. In the meantime, if students are having trouble scheduling an appointment, the Counseling Center lists community resources that provide mental health care in the Louisville area. The Health Sciences campus also has its own counseling service for its students.

Photo Courtesy // U of L Counseling Center; Payton Carns, The Louisville Cardinal