Universities Leveraging Teletherapy Services to Support Students Year Round

Most colleges and universities offer mental health services during the school year to help students cope with issues such as depression, suicide attempts, grief support, sleeplessness, anxiety and more. Typically, students take advantage of campus psychological services by visiting the counseling center and meeting with one of the institution’s on-staff therapists or a nearby professional affiliated with the university.

But what happens to these therapy sessions between the end of the spring semester and the day students return to campus in the fall?

Some institutions offer teletherapy to enrolled students during the school year and extend the treatment during the summer session gap.

Fairfield University’s counseling center offers teletherapy program to graduate students during the school year, and extends the sessions over the summer, according to Emily Pleszko, associate director of special projects at Fairfield University. The school uses the UWill teletherapy platform, which connects students with licensed mental health professionals for real-time counseling.

Fairfield University began using the platform in the fall of 2020, offering students remote therapy options. According to Amy Powell, former Vice Dean of Students at Duke University and now Director of Campus Engagement/Student Affairs for UWill, before the pandemic, providers and students were not as comfortable as they are now with virtual therapy. “But mental health issues increased during the pandemic and teletherapy was the only available option,” Powell explained. “Now, both providers and students are familiar and comfortable with teletherapy.”

Students connect with the secure UWill platform via video, phone, chat or email. They log in and identify a need or issue they struggle with along with any special requests or preferences for a practitioner. The system matches them with a counselor so they can set up a video appointment. Schools contract with UWill and can offer a specific number of or unlimited sessions, depending on their individual agreement.

“School counseling centers see the platform as an extension of services when they aren’t able to meet student needs with their in-house resources,” Powell said. “And another great thing about a teletherapy platform like UWill is that students can continue their program because they will always have access to the program no matter where they are.”

Fairfield graduate students currently enrolled in a degree-based program with a valid school email address can access the UWill platform. Fairfield University provides this service to graduate students free of charge.

Pleszko’s office deals specifically with online graduate students. “These students are primarily working adults who have a lot going on, and most take summer courses,” she explained. “We are always looking to provide additional support and this platform has year-round capabilities.”

Overall, the students have been very pleased with the resource. So far, approximately 300 students have made appointments – 14 percent of the total – and the majority of students are booking second appointments.

The UWill platform also gathers data anonymously, to inform the school’s decisions. “We’ve been able to tailor our internal efforts to address common issues,” she said. When data revealed that students were struggling with sleeplessness, for instance, Pleszko’s office was able to put together a webinar on improving sleep. UWill also offers a series of short webinars on topics like yoga to provide additional support for students.