Counseling Center available to students online

The Counseling Center is finding new ways to reach students without in-person services


Washingtonian Society’s recovery resources are now available virtually. Photo courtesy of Katie Evans.

Grace Mamon

The university counseling center will continue to offer services remotely after the transition away from campus.

Although in-person services are no longer available, the counseling center is trying to maintain business as usual through telephone, e-mail and other platforms like Zoom.

Dr. Kirk Luder, a counseling center psychiatrist and the staff director for the peer counseling program, said the program has had to adjust to state laws.

“For students that live in Virginia, we can continue needed services through the end of the academic year the same as we would normally,” Luder said. “But for students that live outside Virginia, the problem is that state licensure laws don’t allow provision of treatment through tele-psychiatry or tele-therapy.”

He said the counseling center is helping these students with the transition away from Lexington until they can get connected with new care providers.

Luder has been working full-time with the counseling center since 2004. He was the university’s consulting physician for five years before that. He said this is a completely new experience.

“The only thing that’s kind of comparable is when students go on study abroad,” he said. “But it’s the first time we’ve ever had to transition suddenly and completely to tele-medicine.”

But not all of the counseling services have changed entirely. The peer counselors are still available and reachable in the same way they would be on campus.

“There’s no licensure for peer counselors,” Luder said. “They’re not mental health professionals. Their function is like that of a knowledgeable friend, so students can certainly continue to call on them.”

Mary Alice Russell, ‘22, a peer counselor, said she has been focusing especially on her first-year residents.

“I have been able to FaceTime with some of my residents, and I am always trying to check up on them,” she said. “But not being on campus changes the dynamic a lot.”

Christopher Watt, ‘21, another peer counselor, is also getting used to the distance from his residents.

“For me as a PC, I really miss my friends on the hall and getting to see them in person,” he said. “They are a huge aspect of my personal support network.”

Watt said he thinks it’s normal to have a hard time with the transition.

“I hope people know that is okay to not be okay,” he said. “This time is bringing new stresses and uncertainty that none of us have ever experienced nor expected … The counseling center is still aiming to support people through this time. We are all struggling in our different ways, but we can and will get through these times together.”

Russell’s recommendations include practicing gratitude and trying to beat isolation by remaining active and social.

“We are living in a time when talking to friends is just a tap away,” she said. “I also think that this is a great time to write letters to people.”

Luder’s advice is also to stay in touch with friends, as well as trying to maintain a regular schedule.

“This kind of turned everything upside down,” he said. “So put yourself on a schedule, have a sense of productive things that you can do.”

Luder said he facilitated his first virtual meeting last Friday with the Washingtonian support group.

“It really went surprisingly well,” he said. “I think it was a real relief to students to just be back in touch with each other.”

Katana Evans, ‘22, participated in the meeting and said she actually felt more connected to her peers because of the increased accessibility.

“If anything, it helps create a sense of normalcy by seeing all the familiar faces,” Evans said. “Virtual meetings will likely continue when the crisis deescalates due to higher accessibility and more options for recovery meetings.”

The counseling center page on the university website details how students can reach out for remote treatment.