New counseling service hopes to lower barriers to treatment

Counselors are available at Appleby Hall on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Max Chao

A new counseling program hopes to engage University of Minnesota students who may be uncomfortable with seeking treatment for mental health struggles. 

In late February, Student Counseling Services expanded a pilot version of Let’s Talk, an informal counseling program present on the University’s Duluth and Morris coordinate campuses and other schools nationwide.

The service emphasizes breaking down barriers to counseling treatment through informal meetings away from medical clinics, said Glenn Hirsch, director of SCS. 

“Some students, for a number of reasons, may not feel comfortable coming to a mental health center to get treatment,” Hirsch said. 

Historically under-represented students are often hesitant to seek out mental health treatment, he said.

“One of the interesting challenges we face is, ‘how do we offer support to those students in a different way than traditional services?’” Hirsch said.

Currently, the program is run by two counselors who hold open drop-in sessions in Appleby Hall. SCS plans to expand sessions to Coffman Union in the coming months and the Recreation and Wellness Center in the future.

While the program is administered by trained counselors, it is not a replacement for therapy, said Let’s Talk Counselor Gina Liddell-Westefeld. 

“I think Let’s Talk can … be a place where you can literally just talk since it is little-to-no paperwork, it’s free, it’s confidential and it is open-door,” Liddell-Westefeld said. 

The program comes after a slew of mental health and training programs were implemented over the past year, including Effective U and Learn to Live. 

Hirsch said these programs are part of a greater effort to reach all students.

“We’re really making a lot of efforts to be as broad-based as possible in the amount of mental health resources we offer to students,” Hirsch said.

According to past Minnesota Daily coverage, mental health visits to Boynton Health this semester are up 18 percent compared to spring 2017. Hirsch said in an email that the creation of new programs is in part due to this increase. 

He added that funding for Let’s Talk comes from the SCS budget and additional funding for more counselors comes from the President’s Office.

Let’s Talk was developed at Cornell University, and has since spread to over 50 universities around the country, such as the University of Washington, University of Wisconsin-Madison and St. Olaf College. 

Although the program had a slow start, the Duluth campus has seen growth in interest since launching the program four years ago and is planning on adding an additional weekly session later this month, said Jean Baribeau-Thoennes, counseling director of health services at the Duluth campus.

SCS hopes to expand the program to include greater staffing, more drop-in availability and new locations by fall 2018, Hirsch said.

Let’s Talk counselors host open hours at Appleby Hall 135 on Tuesdays from 2 to 4 p.m. and Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.