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counseling conundrum: staff resignations revealed

Nine members of the UNH Counseling Center have resigned throughout the current academic year after the retirement of Former Director Dr. David Cross in June 2016. According to two previous counselors, their resignations were influenced by a “toxic” work environment that was allegedly present in the Counseling Center during this transitional period. 

According to Interim Director Dr. Joan Glutting, the Counseling Center is currently transitioning to a more “direct care” oriented center where practices and policies revolve around the diverse needs and schedules of undergraduate and graduate students. It is during this transition that the Counseling Center lost nine members of its staff. Senior Vice Provost of Student Affairs Ted Kirkpatrick noted that the university did not fire anyone; they all left on their own accord.

“They [the former UNH counselors] made a decision on whether they could be part of this new center or not,” Kirkpatrick said. “Just like you or I can elect to take a job or not take a job, but no clinician was terminated.”

According to former UNH Counseling Center member Dr. Megan Tucker, the decision to leave the Counseling Center was not based on the expectations the new policies outlined, but the process and environment in which they were introduced. For Tucker, it was what she percieved to be the “toxic work environment” influenced by a lack of “process,” “consultation” and “discussion” that contributed to her decision to leave UNH.

“That was really difficult that we were fighting against the process, not the changes,” Tucker said. “But the narrative was often switched so that we were made to look like the ones who weren’t adaptable and couldn’t adjust to the new system.”

Dr. Sonya Shropshire-Friel also left the UNH Counseling Center because of a “toxic” work environment. Shropshire-Friel said that at the time of her departure on Sept. 2, staff meetings had been decreased from two hours to 50 minutes a week, sometimes less.

“So over time I began to voice my concern more explicitly […] saying that we [staff] would love to be involved in the process of helping to shape Counseling Center policies, particularly since we are going to be the ones who are implementing them with students,” Shropshire-Friel said. “And one of the ways in which we could do this was meeting once a week for two hours a week as [a] senior staff.”

Some of the new implementations Glutting discussed being introduced in the Counseling Center include extended evening hours on Tuesday and Wednesday (where individual and group counseling will be available from 5 p.m.- 8 p.m.), 24/7 on call service hours to support residential life and the police during the later hours of the evening and night, outreach liaisons between the Counseling Center and colleges within the university and a focus on how to better serve the international community who may have language and cultural barriers that may create difficulties for them to seek help.

According to the Counseling Center’s website, the extended hours are already available and Glutting hopes the 24/7 service will be in effect next fall.

“You guys don’t have emergencies, most of the time, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.,” Glutting said. “Stuff happens in the middle of the night, and our residential life staff and our police need this support of this office to help them with these mental health emergencies in the middle of the night.”

Shropshire-Friel noted that after a workday that lasts to at least 5 p.m., and sometimes later, making decisions late at night could be challenging.

“If you had an emergency situation at the end of the day that you need to attend to or someone needs to be hospitalized, that could be a very difficult thing in terms of making rational decisions if you are sleep deprived day after day,” Shropshire-Friel said.

According to Kirkpatrick, at the end of the last academic year the waitlist for the Counseling Center was 30 students long. Kirkpatrick noted that all students pay for counseling services through fees and, like having a broken arm, mental health issues cannot wait to be treated. In order to increase direct service for students, clinicians are expected to see 24 to 26 students a week, which, according to Glutting and Kirkpatrick, is the national standard for a public university the size of UNH. 

As of April 3, the waitlist consisted of eight students. However, as of the April 19, it has increased to 25, which according to Glutting, is normal for this time of the year.

According to Tucker, the waitlist never remained at 30 for the duration of the semester. The long wait was in between the fall and spring semesters and fluctuated because students remain on the list while the center reaches out to them to begin counseling.

“In the time I was there, I can’t remember a time when the waitlist was that high other than between semester breaks,” Tucker said.

Glutting acknowledges that the amount of transition has been disruptive to some, but not all, of students receiving services. However, she assures by the end of the semester the center will be “refocused” on their first priority: serving students.

According to Kirkpatrick, the Counseling Center has hired three new psychologists and three social workers. There is an ongoing search for a permanent director and a senior staff psychologist. The two remaining positions will be left open for the new director to fill once they are appointed.

“I am absolutely committed to a diverse group of clinicians to provide services for our students, undergraduate and graduate so that every student, any student at UNH can look at those faces in the Counseling Center and see a piece of themselves,” Kirkpatrick said.

Among the new hires are members specializing in veteran services, ADHD, Asperger’s syndrome and students on “the spectrum,” according to Glutting. Glutting added that from 10 a.m to 12 p.m. on May 8, there will be an open house at the Counseling Center, located in Smith Hall, for students, faculty and staff to meet the new staff.

According to Shropshire-Friel, there is a misconstrued notion that the resignations from the counseling center were solely a result of the temporary suspension of hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Though she said that suspension was an issue, it was not the only determining factor.

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