The MSU Counseling and Psychiatric Services, or CAPS, has been without a director for more than a year.
Projected to be over in April, a search for a new director has been underway this semester, resulting in three candidates. The search committee is made up of graduate and undergraduate students, psychiatrists, counselors and directors of various student health services and sexual assault programs.
Town halls for each of the three candidates running for this position were held for both undergraduate and graduate students during mental health awareness week.
Candidates Mark Patishnock, Sabrina Ford and Dani Meier answered questions from students from various organizations on campus including the Associated Students of Michigan State University, or ASMSU, the Mental Health Awareness Club and Spartan Support Network.
"At the end of the day, CAPS is the student center," Patishnock said. "The services are for them. Receiving student input as a continuous process is how we make sure we design CAPS to meet the needs of students."
Patishnock has a background in collegiate mental health and has worked as the director of counseling and psychological services as well as a staff psychologist in the past. He has been following MSU's search for a permanent CAPS director and said because of the university's current climate and the reputation of the old counseling center, this position is a special opportunity.
"I've really been inspired by this community and how they move forward together," Patishnock said. "I see this as an opportunity to really offer collegiate mental health services at an aspirational level that I've been trained to do. There seems to be a climate and a movement and an energy by students, faculty and staff to really serve students in this way. How could you not be a part of it?"
The biggest concerns regarding counseling services on campus are wait times and referrals, noted Robert Brown, a resident assistant in Holmes Hall. Patishnock said this was a concern of his, too.
"One of the things we have to make sure is that we're highly accessible to students, and that includes wait times," Patishnock said. "Not only wait time reduction in terms of how quick it is to get initially, but it's also important to minimize wait times for follow-up care."
Students at Patishnock's town hall on March 23 also offered suggestions of what the CAPS director position should entail, including talking to every residential neighborhood, establishing ways to help freshmen transition into college and making these services accessible to various marginalized groups.
"I've gotten the sense that there are some students that are very unhappy," Patishnock said. "I want everyone to understand who we are, what we do, what our hours are, how to access us, and to make sure that the barrier to cure isn't lack of awareness."
Patishnock's main priorities are to make information regarding how to and where to access counseling and psychiatric services "omnipresent" and university collaboration. He wants to look at internal CAPS data to view what demographic of students are utilizing these services and what demographic of students needs to be reached out to.
"We need to reach out and have relationships with student groups, individual students, faculty, staff, international student organizations ... and go to provide training and support to spend time in their spaces and also allow that to be a reciprocal learning experiences so that I could better understand what it means to be a student with this background and identity. What are the unique challenges?" Patishnock said.
Currently, Ford is an assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology at MSU's College of Human Medicine.
She has a background in psychology and collegiate counseling, but for the last 10 years has been teaching psychiatric and psychological material to medical students. She also has a background in research related to women’s risk behavior and substance abuse within African-American communities.
“When this position was opened, I was really excited about integrating the psychiatry department and the counseling and psychology department," Ford said. “Being able to see both sides of psychology and psychiatry or medicine might be helpful in terms of integrating the two services.”
Ford said MSU is at a time for “learning and healing” and noted the reconstruction of the health colleges on campus in response to the ex-MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar crisis and its collaboration with mental health efforts.
“I don’t see behavioral health issues getting any less, statistically. I think it’s going to increase … but there’s still stigma," Ford said. "There are still people who think, ‘get over yourself.' But I think that is going to be changing.”
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Students at her town hall brought up concerns including wait times, lack of action after counseling center walk-ins and lack of quick response to mental health crisis or emergency situations.
Ford said that times are not acceptable when it comes to mental health. She said she would implement care coordinators and peer support persons to be on call in crisis situations.
She also said the needs of students varies among different demographics on campus and will ensure access to appropriate counseling and resources for those groups.
“I have a dedication to African-American students. When I first looked at the website I was like, ‘I don’t see a lot of people that look like me,’” Ford said. “I think there’s still that stigma for most everybody.”
With more than 25 years of experience in mental health and education, Meier has worked as a psychotherapist, school social worker, a director of health, integration treatment and prevention, a professor and is currently the chief clinical officer at Mid-State Health Network.
ASMSU President Lorenzo Santavicca, who is on the CAPS director search committee, said Meier's town hall had the most people in attendance.
The questions and concerns students had for Meier were similar to the other two candidates regarding multicultural counseling, the promotion of services on campus and wait times.
"His passions are engaging particularly around issues like sexual assault, embracing non-violence efforts and he has been very results-focused with his work," Santavicca said.
Meier has a priority for ensuring services are provided for adverse populations, such as trauma survivors, students of color, LGBTQ students, students with disabilities and student veterans, Santavicca said.
He also has a background in public behavioral health and substance abuse disorder treatment and has worked in prevention programs across Michigan. He is experienced with at-risk students, suicide prevention and has provided leadership and training on campuses regarding mental health awareness.
Meier could not be reached for comment at the time of publication.
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