Starting this semester, students can schedule appointments with the University's Counseling and Psychological Services online, according to Director of CPS Calvin Chin.
Previously, students had the option to schedule appointments via phone or in-person.
“With online scheduling, students can schedule an appointment right away, during those moments when students are ready to reach out, instead of waiting until CPS is open again,” he said.
Chin explained that CPS explored ways to implement the online scheduling last year and used this past summer to refine the process. He added that the initiative was developed through student feedback that suggested online scheduling as an alternate and convenient means of scheduling an appointment with CPS.
Chin noted that the desire to reduce barriers to seeking counseling with CPS was one of the primary considerations in developing this initiative. He said initial appointments were the most important to make available through online scheduling, as it allows students to bypass the first telephone call, which might be intimidating to some.
“We’ve looked at studies nationally and there’s a clear consensus that the taking that initial step — making a first counseling appointment — presents the most difficulty for students, especially if a student is new to counseling,” he said.
At this point, follow-up appointments still need to be scheduled through telephone, email, or in-person, Chin noted, adding students typically schedule these appointments directly with their counselors at the end of each session. He added that students still have the option to reschedule appointments by emailing their counselors.
University Health Services Director John Kolligian Jr. deferred comment to Chin.
Zhan Okuda-Lim ’15, former Undergraduate Student Government U-councilor and first chair of the Mental Health Initiative Board, said that during his term as MHIB chair, he recalled discussions between students and administration about online scheduling in early 2014.
“It’s always helpful to have more opportunities for students to contact CPS and schedule that appointment, because you might have students who are more comfortable calling or walking in, but if there’s a student who’s more comfortable filling out an online form, that should be available,” he said.
As an alum, Okuda-Lim said he was ecstatic to hear about how far the University has come in decreasing stigma around mental health and facilitating conversations about it. He added that the number of new initiatives and programs will only increase student awareness on campus.
“Another new initiative that was rolled out during freshman Orientation this year, one of the first main Orientation programs this year was about caring for oneself and looking out for one another, and it was organized with CPS, students, and others,” he said.
The Orientation program for the Class of 2020 featured a session on mental health that lasted one-and-a-half hours, the first time the University devoted a significant amount of time to a program about mental health, Okuda-Lim added. He recalled participating in discussions two years ago that secured Chin only ten minutes to speak at the Orientation program for the Class of 2018.
Jennie Yang ’20 said the segment presented during the Orientation program held for the Class of 2020 opened her eyes to the reality of mental health on campus. Out of all of the programs presented to first-year students that weekend, she added that this one was the most memorable.
“I was amazed to hear that nearly half of all students at Princeton had gone to CPS before, and I think that online scheduling will allow students who are intimidated by the thought of having to initiate contact feel more comfortable reaching out for help,” she said.
Chin said the online scheduling was developed independently of the session, but that these initiatives, including U-Matter and programs on mindfulness, serve to increases accessibility to CPS for physical or emotional support and to decrease stigma around mental health.
“We are continuing to develop our Outreach programming to introduce CPS staff to students in more informal settings and to promote increased awareness around student mental health and well-being issues,” he said.
Aleksandra Czulak ’17, USG president, said she and other members of USG had held several conversations with Chin and students around campus to discuss online scheduling as a first point of contact for students.
“It’s been a topic that’s been in conversations for a very long time,” she said.
Czulak added that different programs within USG have been working on mental health related initiatives, and that much has changed over her years at Princeton. The Princeton Perspectives Project was able to present at the Orientation program alongside Chin, and MHIB, which hosts Mental Health Week, has advocated for online scheduling for years, she added.
“The culture has definitely changed for upperclassmen and sophomores, but will be a starting point for freshmen and our departing legacy, that they can now go online and make an appointment [with CPS],” she said.
Sarah Sakha ’18, MHIB co-chair, said the group has had many priorities, from increasing transparency surrounding the University’s withdrawal and readmission policy and implementing the online scheduling process. One of the group’s focuses is on destigmatizing mental health, which is what online scheduling does since it prevents students from feeling like they’re being interrogated.
“Just from talking to people and logically, it can be very difficult to call when you’re in the middle of an anxiety attack or breakdown, and you don’t really want to talk to anyone, but you know you have to reach out for help,” she said.
Sakha added although it is very effective at initiating the first point of contact, that one concern about the online scheduling was little flexibility in terms of urgency. Scheduling an appointment by phone or in-person allows students with urgent concerns to see a counselor sooner rather than later, something online schedules cannot do, she said.
One of the MHIB’s priorities will be to work on increasing accessibility of CPS resources, psychologists, and counselors for students in response to such high demand, she added.
“If you try to schedule [an appointment], it’s not exactly a short waiting time, and you have to wait anywhere from one to three weeks out, because it is in such high demand,” she said.
Sakha said an initiative that MHIB hopes to implement sometime this year is a peer nightline program, in which students seeking help can call trained student volunteers during late hours. She added that although Contact is available as a crisis hotline, the peer nightline would allow students to connect with other students who can better empathize because they have experienced similar situations before.
“You can text or call a peer, who is trained, to just talk through situations that are Princeton-specific; we hope that that will be implemented at some point, in collaboration with administration at CPS,” she said.
Sakha is an associate Opinion editor for The Daily Princetonian.
Ella Cheng ’16, former USG president, said the development of online scheduling for CPS appointments had been a key topic of discussion within the MHIB and a priority for her as president during her term.
“I was in conversation with [administration] by asking them what the obstacles were and getting updates about establishing it; they were definitely interested in it, but I think that the administration had to work out challenges with implementing the system,” she said.
Cheng added that she was excited to hear increased visibility and discussion around mental health. As a freshman student, she remembers hearing very few conversations about mental health until USG’s first Mental Health Week programming. She added that the administration has become more cognizant of mental health on campus through in changes to residential college adviser training and even the talk given during this year’s Orientation program.
“It is definitely one way to encourage students, and a very effective way to encourage students to book that first appointment, because I think oftentimes in terms of getting counseling and help, if you’re ever struggling, the hardest part is to reach out in the first place,” she said.
Cheng is a former staff writer for The Daily Princetonian.
Students are still encouraged to call 609-258-3141 or walk-in during business hours to schedule an appointment with CPS. Students seeking counseling after hours are encouraged to contact the on-call counselor at 609-258-3139, or in urgent situations, to call the Department of Public Safety at 609-258-3333.
Clarification: UHS director John Kolligian Jr., previously noted as having declined to comment, deferred comment to Chin.