Rebecca M. Sykes Wellness Center posted a job listing on Andover’s website seeking a counselor “for the remainder of the academic year, beginning immediately” on October 4. Multiple student sources confirmed that two Sykes counselors plan to depart by the end of this term. When asked if members of the Sykes Counseling team are planning to depart, members of campus administration, as well as multiple employees of Sykes, declined to comment on matters of staffing.
Last year, Sykes employed six full-time counselors as well as two student interns, including a one-year full-time counselor hired to account for an anticipated increase in student need for counseling. While the school intends to staff five full-time counselors as well as a postdoctoral fellow this year, one full time counselor position has been empty since the start of the school year.
According to Dr. Amy Patel, Dean of Health and Wellness, filling the currently empty staff position could take months. If two staff counseling team members leave, Sykes will be left with three counselors.
There is currently a waitlist for Andover students to see Sykes counselors, according to Patel. In addition, as previously reported, Sykes has shifted to a biweekly model for student counseling and away from weekly sessions for almost all students, depending on student need.
Patel said that a shift to biweekly counseling was part of a broader change in the school’s approach to mental health care. She noted other resources that students can take advantage of outside of weekly counseling sessions.
“The goal is actually that we can supplement the one-on-one counseling with opportunities for the student to participate in any of these other types of mental health services or mental health programs, which could include going to a workshop, for example. One-on-one counseling, every week, for four years, would mean we need dozens of counselors, right, that’s the reality. And no school is going to have that. We’re not a therapeutic boarding school. So that’s not what we’re going to be able to provide. But we do have a lot of [other] mental health programs,” said Patel.
Besides workshops, the other programs Patel listed were the rotating Consultation Liaison (CL) counselor and referrals to off-campus counseling. She further explained that students who need weekly counseling—including those on the waitlist and those currently seeing a departing counselor—may have to seek off-campus counseling.
“We will always be working with students who have counseling needs to make sure they have a plan that meets their needs, but that plan may not be weekly counseling on campus. It’s not likely to be weekly counseling on campus…If the need is one-on-one counseling, it will be met, but it might not be met by a counselor at the Wellness Center. The need is, ‘I need a one-on-one counselor.’ The need is not ‘I need a one-on-one counselor at the Wellness Center…’ That’s actually not been a need that we even necessarily stated we would fulfill, that’s there’s [one-on-one on-campus] counseling available for everybody,” said Patel.
Student Nor DeHoog ’24 said she felt as though Andover is not doing enough to support student mental health amidst a worsening adolescent mental health crisis. DeHoog said they did not feel Sykes provided adequate counseling services.
DeHoog said, “In my personal experience, I was receiving weekly counseling throughout my Lower year, but they asked me to stop coming every week because they needed to prioritize people like emergent cases during exam week and during midterms, because they didn’t have enough staffing to support an ongoing patient.”
DeHoog ultimately ended up turning to off-campus counseling. However, she noted that this is not an option for many students.
“I realize that financially [off-campus counseling] is not available to every student and I don’t think that counseling recognizes that enough, because they always say ‘oh, we can always connect you with somebody outside of campus,’ but for very, very many people, that is not a realistic option… I think that there are very tangible steps that Andover could take to increase the support of the counseling office, and that is hiring more counselors. They don’t need to reinvent the wheel. They simply need more counselors,” said DeHoog.
During a recent consultation with a departing Sykes counselor this term, Dorothy Swanson Blaker ’24 was told to consider seeking outside counseling. However, she said outside counseling was not a viable option for her, and she was unsure how or whether she will be able to access counseling and other mental health services this year.
“I want [Sykes] to have more transparency with us about everything: how many counselors they have, what’s available, why they’re doing certain things… I wish that the school could invest more time into changing the mindset from prioritizing only academics… and into proportionally increasing their mental health support and their prioritization of mental health alongside the national increase in poor mental health in students,” said Swanson Blaker.
According to Patel, the school does not currently have any plans to hire more counselors beyond maintaining staffing for the six current counseling positions.
Editor’s Note: Dorothy Swanson Blaker is an Associate Copy Editor for The Phillipian.