During shopping period this semester, for the first time, Counseling and Psychological Services allowed students to meet with therapists without scheduling an appointment beforehand, said Will Meek, director of CAPS. The availability for walk-in appointments during shopping period is just one of a series of new initiatives and policies intended to improve the quality of mental healthcare on campus.
After stepping into his role in February, Meek said he consulted with students to learn about the services they hoped “CAPS could provide on campus.” These conversations helped inform the changes CAPS has made over the past six months to its internal structure and external services, he added.
CAPS is involved with “mental health outreach to the community. … We’re involved in providing psychiatric care, we provide counseling, we provide consultation to faculty, staff and parents,” Meek said. But Meek felt CAPS could improve its organization when assigning responsibility to staff members to oversee these obligations, he added.
As a result, “we did a restructuring of the department … that (allows) us to have two assistant directors and an outreach coordinator,” Meek said. He added that they would work with President of Undergraduate Council of Students Chelse-Amoy Steele ’18 and UCS Vice President Naveen Srinivasan ’19 to conduct an “external review for CAPS’ diversity and inclusion efforts and our cultural competence as clinicians.”
CAPS is also working to improve its after-hours sexual assault response. Laura Sobik, assistant director of CAPS, said she works regularly with BWell Health Promotion, SHARE Advocates and Health Services to “look at all of our department policies around sexual assault and make sure that not only are we following best practices but that we’re creating something Brown-specific that is empowering and healing.”
This work involves reviewing cases and considering how they could have responded more effectively and whether any protocol needs to be changed, Sobik added. Ultimately, CAPS wants to make the process “as smooth and as easy as possible during a really vulnerable moment,” she said.
“Given that sexual assault is a low-frequency event but a high-stress event, we really wanted to consolidate the providers who were doing that work. That’s where that decision was made to have a specific team on-call,” Sobik added.
Additionally, CAPS has created an Urgent Care Clinician position. “If students were having a really hard time and wanted to see someone that day, they weren’t able to or it would have to be so severe for them to get in,” Meek said, adding that this position aims to resolve this issue.
Stressing that he wanted to dispel the narrative that CAPS was not diverse, Meek said the department has “11 providers of color” and can provide counseling in six languages. “One of the things I see CAPS being is a leader on campus for diversity and inclusion,” he said, adding that he wanted the department to reflect the presence of the campus’ large global community and become even more multilingual.
Meek’s desire to place CAPS at the forefront of diversity and inclusion efforts led him to “totally rewrite our ad” for positions, he said. “We’re looking for (clinicians) who can understand and really work with people with intersecting identities.”
CAPS has partnered closely with Project LETS to formulate better policy and build stronger partnerships “with the peer advocacy groups on campus,” Meek said.
Stefanie Kaufman ’17, founder and executive director of Project LETS, said she appreciates that Meek understands that “we need to do a better job of educating the community about what it looks like to be mentally ill … (and) that there are ways as a community that we can support folks without always going to the more interventionist types of solutions.”
The addition of a “scope of practice” section to the CAPS website has helped with increasing transparency of its services, Kaufman said.
“I think a lot of people … at elite institutions have a really difficult time separating (themselves) from the work and (being) able to criticize the system as a whole, (but Meek) does that really well,” she added. He’s “able to identify what structural issues exist within (mental health care) policy.”
“At Brown and at many of our peer institutions, there is definitely a culture of considering mental illness a community disturbance. (Meek) is one of the first administrators in his position to acknowledge that as a core issue,” said Molly Hawes ’17, director of expansion at Project LETS. “Addressing that issue (ensures) we can actually … come up with concrete solutions to it.”
Hawes and Kaufman said they hope CAPS, alongside the Office of Student Life, would work to reform the University’s medical leave policies.
Kaufman added that they spoke with Meek about “offering midway programs (to) students … (such as) the ability to take online classes,” having Brown accept community college credits and financially support low-income students who “cannot access services like … therapy and medication.”
Student demand for mental health services is at an all-time high, Meek said, adding that with a massive shift in the appearance of mental health care on campuses, CAPS has also embraced that “there needs to be not just some tweaks but some legitimate evolution.”
Meek hopes to shift CAPS’ mental health care to being more goal-focused rather than oriented around a timeline. “I’m really interested in coming up with innovative, creative ways in providing access to care and not being bound by individual counseling appointments,” he said.