The University Counseling Center is committed to promoting the psychological well-being of Binghamton University's undergraduate and graduate student community and in providing assistance to students in their pursuit of personal and academic growth. It's a positive step that you are considering obtaining counseling help. Counseling can be very helpful for many difficulties and can help provide support, insight, solutions and information about other resources.
How does Binghamton University support student mental health?
Multiple offices directly support student mental health, and many others offer indirect support. Some key offices involved in direct support are:
- University Counseling Center
- Decker Student Health Services and Psychiatry
- Healthy Campus Initiative (HCI)
- Healthy Campus Peer Agents
- Mental Health subcommittee
- Office of Dean of Students CARE Team case managers
- Services for Students with Disabilities (mental health is now one of the top reasons for SSD registration)
- Residential Life Master of Social Work program in residence halls
- Mindset Mentors within Health and Wellness Studies
- Psychological Clinic in Clearview, open to students and community members
- Multicultural Resource Center (MRC)
What unique services does the UCC offer that are not offered elsewhere?
In most communities there are clinics and private practices that offer individual and group counseling. However, urgent same-day appointments are not typically offered (i.e. there is not a mental health equivalent to urgent care, only an emergency room psychiatric evaluation). The wait times can far exceed those at the UCC at most agencies that provide mental health care to a set population.
UCC counselors also understand Binghamton University and have connections with other offices to be able to confer about navigating processes and, if the student is interested in signing a release of information, to exchange information to collaborate with other offices in assisting the student.
The level of Treatment Coordination service at the UCC is also somewhat unique — many clinics that don’t provide a certain specialty service, or put someone on a wait list, don’t offer the kind of in-depth support that the UCC does for navigating insurance and getting services elsewhere.
Is the UCC the main mental health service on campus?
The UCC Is the primary service for mental health counseling to support students’ emotional and psychological well-being. However, The University takes a comprehensive approach to student mental health, which means there are many aspects to student mental health, many types of services such as prevention and crisis intervention, and other services that are funded and offered by the University for mental health. (See also above.) In terms of counseling or psychotherapy, the Psychological Clinic, which is run by the Psychology Department and utilizes graduate psychology students, serves students and the community.
What kinds of services does the UCC offer?
The UCC offers therapeutic support for students wanting to address personal/mental health concerns. This support is separate from academic, career or other “counseling.”
- Individual counseling
- Common issues are anxiety, depression, relationship concerns
- Sessions are typically biweekly and therapy is brief
- Group counseling and workshops
- Benefits to learning from/sharing with others
- Weekly meetings through the semester
- Workshops are either one-time or a brief series like the four-part Anxiety Management series
- Urgent counseling
- Any student is eligible (whether a current ongoing client or not)
- Same-day appointments are available 1–4 p.m. on business days. We prefer that students call that day rather than “walking in” so we can manage the schedule and avoid keeping students waiting. We’ll still do our best to accommodate at other times if urgent.
- After-hours counselor also available.
- Treatment Coordination
- Help with referrals, particularly for off-campus therapy services when student has need for longer-term/more intensive therapy than UCC can provide.
- Trainings, mental health education — with Healthy Campus Initiative
- Let’s Talk” counselor time in various locations
- Worried about a student, friend, roommate, classmate? Call or schedule a meeting to talk with a counselor about the concern and what might be done about it.
- Individual counseling
Are services confidential?
Yes, services are confidential within the Department of Health and Counseling. If a student wants information shared with anyone (such as a parent), they must give UCC permission to do so by signing a Release of Information form.
A life-threatening emergency is an exception to confidentiality — i.e. the UCC needs to connect the student to a higher level of care. Other limits include child abuse or a subpoena.
For parent involvement, students can sign a release of information if they wish and it can be at varying levels of detail. Students are considered adults so they decide whether to sign.
What has been done to improve access to mental health services at the UCC in recent
Strategies have prioritized initial access and urgent access to care, so that students can get an appointment and get connected to care quickly, whether that care is at the counseling center or elsewhere. When there were no session limits, some students might be getting dozens or hundreds of sessions while others waited for service. Strategies include:
- Providing robust urgent appointment availability. Multiple appointments are now available every afternoon for students who need to be seen that same day. We also have worked to be flexible to provide responsiveness for students who might present at other times of the day, depending on the level of urgency. We do not have preset urgent slots at every hour of the day because the strategy has been to maximize our counselors’ time with ongoing appointments in conjunction with a good amount of urgent session availability.
- Increasing the number of initial access appointments, keeping the wait time for an initial appointment down to just a few business days, rather than 2–3 weeks in previous models.
- Creating after-hours counselor availability. We have contracted with ProtoCall, an external service that is easily available through our main number, to provide service from close of business until the next morning, as well as coverage during holidays and weekends, so that students can always get in touch with a counselor. We receive reports of student calls so that we can follow up with students as needed the business next day.
- Increased staffing: The UCC has hired four staff in the last five years, including staff in specialty areas such as LGBTQ+, trauma, multicultural counseling and athletics. Psychiatry staffing has also been increased by 60% in the past two years so that we now have two full-time [1.8 FTE] psychiatry providers as part of Decker Student Health Services Center, which is integrated with the UCC under Health and Counseling. This is an unusually strong psychiatry staffing for higher education institutions.
- Setting session limits within a defined scope of care, so that the UCC, like Decker Student Health Services, defined what range of care it could provide. This allowed more equitable access to care for new students seeking access, and has meant that some students are referred for longer term care.
- Offering telehealth service to help with wait times — Health and Counseling contracted with BetterMynd, a telehealth service, in fall of 2022 to provide brief counseling through telehealth, specifically to be used at peak times so that there is no wait for students who are interested in teleservice. This has increased our ability to match students with diverse counselors (if requested) and opened up options of evening appointments. BetterMynd has also assisted with accessing care quickly and minimizing wait times.
- Expanding Treatment Coordination (facilitating referrals to community providers and resources): in the last three years we increased Treatment Coordination staffing so that we could expedite external referrals, follow up on referral outcomes and provide “bridge” or interim sessions for some students who are in process of getting connected to off-campus referrals.
- Enhancing telehealth referrals: one of the silver linings of the pandemic was the increase in telehealth options. The UCC Treatment Coordination team draws upon statewide telehealth resources to help students find providers that fit their insurance, are connected to their home areas and/or offer specialized services.
Why are there with session limits and a brief therapy model at the counseling center?
- Brief therapy works well for many students, though not all. Brief therapy has been proven to be a helpful intervention for many mental health issues. It provides effective help for many students and communicates client resilience — that many clients in therapy improve quickly and don’t require longer term therapy, and that they might return for a booster or follow up appointments. Of course, some students need longer term care, and there are careful procedures in place to support them with referrals.
- The nature of counseling itself, with repeated appointments, can result in a bottleneck over time of students seeking follow-up appointments. Imagine if most students who go to Fleishman Career Center or to academic advising suddenly asked to meet every week or every other week — a backlog would quickly form. The UCC takes this “repeated appointment” pattern into account in setting up schedules, but it can be challenging at peak times, so there need to be some limits. The limits help provide equitable access for new students seeking care, so that there are new openings in counselor schedules.
- Services are funded by the student health fee. With a limited fee, there are necessarily limited services. The student health fee is about $400 per year, which is relatively low compared to the cost of an insurance policy for an individual or family.
- The modest health fee covers an impressive range of services, some of which are related to physical health and some to mental health. Some are related to direct care, and some to prevention. These services include Decker Student Health Services Center, Psychiatry services, Healthy Campus Initiative, the University Counseling Center and select positions in other offices that support mental health.
- The counseling center itself has several services. While individual counseling is the largest of those, other very important services to which time and resources are allocated include urgent counseling, initial consultation meetings, group counseling, third party consultation services regarding students of concern, after-hours counseling, treatment coordination services to provide strong assistance to students taking care off campus, and outreach and prevention services.
In sum: brief therapy is an effective service for many students. Individual counseling can result in a bottleneck sometimes, and it is just one part of the services offered at the UCC. The UCC is itself one among several services funded by the health fee — kept modest in order to keep costs manageable for students at a public institution. Therefore individual counseling services are of necessity limited. The UCC strives to be highly strategic and effective in applying its resources to provide direct service within the brief model along with other services like urgent care and referrals to the community.
Why can't the University just raise the health fee?
Generally there is a tension across SUNY services between maintaining high service levels while keeping fees low. Families and students who are paying the bills want to keep fees affordable as possible, and fees are managed and sometimes capped at the state level. We have limited control over the fees at the University level.
When we do have an opportunity to increase fees, the health fee is one among several fees and must be reviewed in conjunction with other broad based fees to see which are allocated for potential increase. Any fee increase proposals must be approved at the state level and can be frozen at times.
Can you hire more counselors through other funding sources?
College and university mental health services (whether at Binghamton or at similar institutions) are designed to provide a wide range of acute and primary care service; however, they are not designed to cover the full range of health care services and were never intended to do so. Similarly, the University’s mission is first and foremost educational and it is not our purpose to take on the full cost of healthcare for students by virtue of their attendance.
The University offers many services that are limited in scope and scale ranging from financial aid to tutoring and advising. Mental health services should be understood in the same way. Binghamton provides access to mental health services that is by many dimensions greater than the services available through more expensive health insurance options with the revenues of the health fee. University resources are allocated in accordance with the nature and source of funding (for example, tuition dollars pay primarily for education and instructional services) and fixed (obligatory) expenses constitute a high percentage of the overall budget such that there is not necessarily full discretion as to how all institutional resources are expended.
How does student input factor into services at the UCC?
We have an anonymous satisfaction survey that is offered after each visit for all students across all types of visits, resulting in direct feedback from students who use the clinical services.
The Student Health Advisory Committee (SHAC) meets throughout the year to provide feedback to health and counseling leaders about issues like the health fee, student health insurance and services.
The Healthy Campus Initiative has a mental health subcommittee that includes staff and students. There are also several student groups that give regular feedback to the UCC, including healthy campus peer agents and the SEEK student helpline peers.
We are also in the process of developing a Mental Health Advisory Council composed of students, faculty and staff in collaboration with the Student Association.
What is the ratio of counselors to students at Binghamton University? Is that a normal
ratio for our campus size?
We have about 15 full-time counselors. We are planning to add two new counselor positions that will bring our ratio below the recommendation. To be more exact, there are currently 16 clinical staff and 2 clinical team leaders whose direct service work equates to 15.6 FTE (full time equivalent) counselors in terms of direct service.
Our ratio is one counselor to every 1,200 students. About 10% of the student body uses the service, so that is one counselor for every 120 students, and the students don't come for counseling all at once, but throughout the year. This ratio is well within the range that is recommended by IACS, the International Accreditation of Counseling Services, which recommends a ratio in the range between 1:1,000 up to 1:1,500 students.
Moreover, larger institutions and public institutions tend to have less favorable ratios with more students for each counselor to serve. Binghamton University is doing quite well in comparison to many institutions of it size and type.
Does the UCC offer psychiatry or medication services?
Decker Student Health Services Center has two full-time (1.8 FTE) psychiatry staff, who are integrated with the UCC under Health and Counseling, and is unusually strong for higher education institutions. This represents a 60% increase in Psychiatry hours over the past two years at the University. The local off-campus wait time to see a Psychiatric prescriber can be several months; our services have reduced that wait time for students to 1-2 weeks or sooner in many cases.
Psychiatry is part of Decker Student Health Service Center. Psychiatrists (board certified, MD physicians) and psychiatric nurse practitioners are medically trained providers who are tasked with evaluation for prescription psychiatric medications. Due to the close relationship between the UCC and Psychiatry, they are housed in the same building to ease access to providers.
Psychiatry offices also currently house private rooms students can reserve in order to do teleservice counseling and psychiatry appointments with off-campus and home providers. We have seen these spaces utilized more and more as students make long-term connections to treatment providers that they can continue through school breaks and after graduation.
Many of these long term or intensive counseling relationships sustained online started with the treatment coordination services at the UCC, where our treatment coordination staff teaches students how to navigate and access insurance benefits they already have and can use for the long term to connect with specialists, therapists and programs to fit their treatment needs.
These services make students well prepared to continue to treat and manage their mental health condition after they leave college. Through our combination of access to services plus assistance in navigating the world of insurance benefits, students learn not only that mental health care works in their lives, but also how to access that help through their ongoing health insurance coverage for their future needs.
What has the UCC done to help with suicide prevention?
Suicide prevention at Binghamton University is conducted through a comprehensive approach as guided by the Jed Foundation, a non-profit that provides standards and consultation for suicide prevention. There are multiple dimensions:
- Helping students feel connected and develop healthy life skills
- Recognizing when students might be struggling
- Connecting students to a range of services
- Offering clinical services
- Making urgent and emergency services available
The UCC’s role in this suicide prevention model is first to provide access to non-emergency clinical services to help students improve their mental health — and then if students are in a crisis, to provide urgent clinical services or get students to more emergency mental healthcare. The UCC also plays some role in outreach and prevention, although this is primarily led by the Healthy Campus Initiative.
Do you offer telehealth services?
Yes. We want students to be comfortable with service modality, and some students might prefer telehealth due to tight schedules, feeling under the weather or travel restrictions, such as being sick, injured or home for break (students have to be in N.Y. state).
Are counseling services free?
Yes. The Counseling Center is funded by the University health fee, one of the mandatory fees that students pay on top of their tuition. Once a student has paid those fees there is no additional charge for any UCC service.
When does student health insurance need to be used?
The University requires all students to have health insurance so that they can access and afford care beyond the services covered through the health fee. The UCC has a “scope of service” that defines what it is designed to do and not to do, which is somewhat comparable to primary care in medicine. Insurance is used when there is a need for treatment beyond this scope, including services that involve specialty, longer term and more intensive care.
How can I make an appointment?
Students are asked to make their own appointments. To make an appointment, students can come in or call the office at 607-777-2772, and front desk staff will guide them through the process of filling out some forms, including their schedule. Once those are complete, we will schedule the student with an initial consultation — an appointment with a counselor to discuss counseling needs and our recommendations for next steps.
What if I need to cancel or reschedule an appointment at the University Counseling
If you need to cancel or reschedule your appointment, call the Counseling Center at 607-777-2772 , visit our office in Old O'Connor 264 (OO-264) or you may communicate with your counselor via the online Student Health Portal. Due to the heavy demand for services, we strongly request that you cancel or reschedule one day (24 hours) in advance of your scheduled appointment time.
I am scheduled for a triage appointment. What does that mean?
The triage counselor will talk with you briefly (25–30 minutes) about your needs and the options for counseling. Depending on what fits best for you, the next step may be an initial consultation appointment at the University Counseling Center or it could be a referral to another service. It is possible to use a triage appointment if you are only looking for one meeting.
What happens in an initial consultation appointment?
The initial consultation interview allows us to gather information about your current situation and goals and determine how we can best help. A counselor meets with you to discuss your reasons for seeking help at this time. The counselor also asks some general questions that help us to get to know you. At the consultation interview, you and the counselor will discuss the best treatment options for you.
Note that the counselor you meet for the consultation interview may or may not be the one you work with if brief, on-going treatment is recommended.
If I have a therapist/psychiatrist at home, should I transition services to the Counseling
We recommend you consider whether to transition. There are some limits on services and if the student has a strong relationship and/or longer-term relationship with a home provider, they might benefit from sticking with them, especially if they’re comfortable with tele-counseling. If you aren’t sure, we can meet to discuss and may be able to assist with short term care, referrals and/or group counseling. Psychiatry students can keep that service at home and pick up or order meds here locally. Or to transition to DSHSC Psychiatry, they’ll need to send records and have a counseling provider in place.
What happens if I have an emergency?
Counselors reserve time every day to see any student in crisis who needs immediate attention. Call 607-777-2772 and explain that you need to be seen that day. To help students who are experiencing a crisis or emergency, we provide emergency appointments from 1–4 p.m. Monday through Friday. However, we can work to arrange for urgent counseling times at other points in the day, if needed. These are brief, evaluative sessions where we provide you with options for treatment and any other available actions that are relevant to your immediate needs. After this emergency appointment, we will discuss follow-up options.
The after-hours counseling line is available for nights, weekends and holidays: 607-777-2772, push number 2 when prompted. A counselor will speak with you as soon as possible.
For life-threatening emergencies, contact University Police at 911 or 777-2222.
At night or on the weekend, you may also contact the 24-hour Crisis Service Line at Binghamton General Hospital Psychiatric Crisis Center at 607-762-2302. At any time there is a life-threatening emergency, call 911.
What is group therapy?
Group therapy is a form of counseling in which about 4–10 people come together under the guidance of one or two of the staff counselors. In group therapy, not only do students receive tremendous understanding, support and encouragement from others facing similar issues, but they also gain different perspectives, ideas and viewpoints on those issues. Group therapy, like individual therapy, is a powerful vehicle for growth and change, and is intended to help people who would like to gain support, increase self-awareness and learn new ways to cope with personal or interpersonal challenges. See more about group therapy in our What is Group Therapy handout or our Group Therapy webpage.
What are the offices and facilities like at the UCC?
The UCC moved into newly renovated space in Old O’Connor Hall in 2015. The location is centrally located while also being discrete. There are two UCC lobby areas with a pleasant ambience for students to wait. Counselors’ offices are located on secure hallways, which supports student privacy. The counselors’ offices are of good size and well lit, all with windows. The drywall is reinforced and doors have special soundproofing so that the offices are quiet and private. The UCC also has some space on the third floor of Old O’Connor that is shared with Psychiatry, with which counseling services are integrated.
Why do you have graduate interns at the UCC?
In a typical year the UCC has about six graduate level interns in social work or psychology working two days each. There are no undergraduate interns. Supporting interns is part of the educational mission of the institution — to train the next generation of social workers and psychologists. It also helps our staff to hone their skills through teaching and training, and offers staff the opportunity to “give back” to counselors-in-training.
The graduate interns are all in at least their second year so they have experience prior to coming to the UCC. They go through an interview process, rigorous orientation and initial training period and are closely supervised by licensed professional senior staff.
When a student seeking service may best match with an intern, that student is informed of the possibility and given the choice to meet with an intern or to find a senior staff member to meet with.
What is the difference between a “counselor” and a “therapist” or “psychotherapist”?
Do the UCC counselors have similar education and experience to off campus therapists?
In short, the UCC counselors are licensed mental health professionals who provide psychotherapy and have similar credentials to off-campus providers. We use the term “counselor” (which can also be used more generally, as in a Financial Aid counselor) because some students find it more approachable and less stigmatizing than “psychotherapist.” Technically speaking, the UCC counselors do indeed provide psychotherapy, i.e., a variety of treatments that aim to help a person identify and change troubling emotions, thoughts and behaviors. Psychotherapy takes place when a licensed mental health professional and a client meet one-on-one or with other clients in a group setting. The UCC counselors do have education and licensing that is comparable with off-campus therapists.
Can I request to see a psychiatrist and a counselor at the same time? Do I have to?
Yes, you can meet with both a psychiatrist and a counselor as needed, but this is not typically required. Both psychiatrists and counselors work in the mental health field. A psychiatrist possesses a medical degree and can prescribe medications, whereas the counselor provides "talk therapy." At the UCC, the counselors and psychiatrists work collaboratively to provide the best possible treatment for students as part of a treatment team. Oftentimes, one is referred to the other in order to enhance the best possible outcome. If you are waiting for an appointment at the UCC, you may contact the DSHSC for an appointment with a psychiatrist, if desired. Call 607-777-2221 between the hours of 9 a.m.–noon or 1–4 p.m.