Health and Counselling’s lack of in-person sessions fails students

Students need more mental health support as they navigate in-person classes

A student walking into the Health & Counselling clinic at SFU Burnaby.
If we can have in-person classes, we can also have in-person counselling. PHOTO: Krystal Chan / The Peak

By Al Foroodian, SFU Student

COVID-19 uncertainty and lack of physical interaction has led to record levels of anxiety and depression among students. Students are now faced with new issues as they return to campus, and the counselling services at SFU have fallen short in facilitating this transition. SFU Health and Counselling should offer in-person counselling sessions as soon as possible to respond to students’ mental health needs.

As the pandemic has taken a more manageable approach in Canada, many private practices have returned to providing in-person services. SFU Health & Counselling office is still only operating remotely, mentioning in vague terms that “as the pandemic and restrictions ease, counselling services will be offered [in-person].” However, the province already set guidelines for in-person counselling in June 2021. If students can pack themselves onto buses and sit side-by-side in lecture halls, they can connect with a counselor privately in-person. 

While online therapy has its benefits, one major concern is the loss of connection patients have with their counselors, and arguably vice-versa. The lack of physicality within the sessions translates to difficulties in bonding. For counselors, it is harder to make thorough assessments, which also waters down the level of care a student receives. 

Additionally, many students are unable to get privacy at home due to the presence of family members or roommates, which hinders communication as they may not be able to speak freely with their counsellors. Most importantly, those worst affected are students with severe mental health disorders or students suffering from suicidal thoughts. These students require the most intensive care and may not respond as well to virtual treatment, or be receptive to the idea of meeting online. 

Counselling is an important tool for students as they prepare to take on the challenges of the return to in-person socializing. Some may harbour feelings of anxiety as they relearn how to socialize after long periods of isolation, especially as it’s important to consider pandemic etiquette.

Currently only those with the financial resources will have access to private in-person practices. Students who had trouble with remote-learning due to technological barriers or low-income backgrounds may require counselling to cope with the stress, but they are once again disregarded.

The university completely neglected this crucial element in their planning for a return to campus. SFU has had over three months to adapt their practices to the provincial guidelines. The current state of service is unacceptable. 

There is no reason why in-person counselling shouldn’t have been available for students right from the beginning of the Fall term. It is hard to rationalise that SFU did not have the resources to implement the provincial guidelines, given that it just spent $20 million dollars on a new football stadium. Mind you, half of which was paid for directly by students.

SFU has a duty of care for the well-being of its students. Health & Counselling should announce their plan of returning to in-person services as soon as possible.