Rebecca M. Sykes Wellness Center Incorporates New Telecounseling Option for Students

The Andover community was informed about a new telecounseling resource for students on campus on March 27. The information came in an email to the entire school and faculty from the Rebecca M. Sykes Wellness Center (Sykes). Uwill is an online program that employs licensed clinicians from around Massachusetts; using the platform, students will be able to connect with a counselor for virtual therapy sessions. 

Sykes is one of the first independent schools to provide students with the service, which grants students up to eight sessions free of charge with one of the platform’s counselors. Amy Patel, Dean of Health and Wellness and Chief Medical Officer at Sykes, spoke on how the incorporation of Uwill into Sykes will aid Sykes counselors to meet the needs of students. 

“We’ve been seeing an increase in the utilization of counseling services and so we want to be able to increase services if the numbers continue to rise. Another trend that’s real is that it is becoming harder to hire people in health professions. So the other piece of this is being able to make sure that we have a service for students even if we are not able to meet all those needs on campus,” said Patel. 

Patel pointed out that the Uwill program may not be the right fit for every student, but hopes that this provides another option for students who seek counseling. Patel also spoke on how their collaboration with Uwill will evolve as they receive student feedback.

“We’re doing this as a one-year pilot to be able to understand how this program is for students. I don’t think it’s going to meet the needs of [everyone], some [people] want face-to-face counseling. [But] I expect that telehealth is here to stay and it’s really a matter of figuring out how to reinsure that this works for the student population,” said Patel. 

Vivian Baez, Interim Director of Psychological Services, commented on the origins of the integration of Uwill; Sykes began to consider telehealth during the pandemic. 

“[Uwill] is something that we’ve been thinking about for many years. I think the pandemic has helped us understand that virtual therapy is another viable option and in many situations [it] has removed a lot of barriers, in terms of access. At the start of this year, I looked into it again, at various platforms, and I found that Uwill was probably the most robust of all the platforms that we explored,” said Baez. 

Additionally, Baez highlighted that students can have therapist preferences based on gender, race, and specialization of subject. Baez also noted that the use of Uwill will ease the Sykes staff at points of the year where they receive a large rise in requests for counseling services. 

“One of the things that I was most excited about Uwill was that people are able to select clinicians based on specific identity markers. I think that’s important because we don’t have the ability of hiring an infinite amount of counselors that represent the multitude of identities on this campus. I still think that our services here in the office will be used, but it’ll decrease that bottleneck that happens at certain times in the year,” said Baez. 

Madison Yuan ’23 commended the new resource, commenting on how this will increase accessibility for students who might not have been able to access services at Sykes. 

“My initial thought [about Uwill were] really good because getting a counselor here is really hard, there’s a long waiting list and a lot of people can’t get off of it. [Also], being able to have telehealth is helpful because sometimes it’s really hard to carve out a time in your day where you can physically go to Sykes and be in the right mindset to do that. Having telehealth makes it really flexible about when you want to schedule it and it also puts less burden on the counselors,” said Yuan. Sykes counselors are currently available for sessions in the evenings and weekends in comparison to the 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, at Sykes. According to the school-wide email, Uwill counselors will be available during school hours as well as in the evenings and during weekends.

Adele Ciociola ’25, who was introduced to Uwill through her EBI class, reflected how she thinks Uwill is a beneficial resource for students to have on campus, in addition to other services. However, Ciociola also hopes that Sykes will eventually increase the amount of counselors on campus to have in-person sessions, for people who prefer that method. 

“I always think more resources are a good thing but also I feel like there should be more counselors available, because I feel like going in-person might be more accessible and feel more personal than talking to your phone. [However,] I can also see how it’s maybe less scary for you to just go online. I think this is a good supplemental resource [to Sykes counseling], it’s good to have more options on campus for counseling so when you need something, there’s always someone there,” said Ciociola.