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Dispelling myths about CAPS

Wednesday, we explored the culture of invulnerability that often causes Duke students to become distressed and lonely. On one hand, relief can be found in starting a conversation about mental health just among students. On the other hand, Counseling and Psychological Services can offer helpful resources as well. Today we dispel several negative myths about CAPS that prevent students from using their services. In an ideal universe, the lines between CAPS and student life would be blurred, inspiring formal and informal resources to work in tandem to improve students’ psychological well-being.

One common myth is that getting an appointment with a CAPS counselor takes too long, in the range of three to four weeks. This simply is not true. The wait time myth at CAPS is greatly exaggerated. When Gary Glass, CAPS assistant director for outreach and developmental programming, became a counselor at Duke years go, the average wait time was about two weeks. Dr. Glass and other counselors thought this was already too long, and the average wait time has shortened since then. Although the wait time may be longer in some circumstances—for example, when requesting a particular counselor or during midterms—CAPS will work specially with students who have an urgent problem. In severe cases, students will have their needs moved to the top of the priority list.

Another common myth is that CAPS cuts students off after a specific number of visits. Rather than restricting sessions to a number, counselors instead work with students individually to see how they are progressing and devise a workable plan together. If the student’s problems are beyond its scope, CAPS will make sure they get proper outside help.

Students may also hesitate to go to CAPS if they fear the consequences of telling a counselor they have thoughts of suicide. In reality, revealing suicidal ideation to CAPS does not mean your thoughts will be shared with family or university administrators. In fact, suicidal ideation is quite common among students, according to Glass. Only if CAPS believes a student to be an imminent threat to himself or others—after a thorough risk assessment—will further action be taken.

Students also tend to view CAPS solely as a place to seek clinical help. Actually, CAPS provides a variety of services. CAPS offers many popular programs such as yoga, mindfulness meditation and stress workshops, all of which are a part of Glass’ “treating the water” approach to mental health outreach. At the very least, students should check out the Being Well room in the Flowers Building. Supplied with poetry books and a massage chair, students can stop by for a quiet moment to relax and reflect.

Finally, the most harmful myth is that only “crazy” people go to CAPS. The reality is that stress and sadness are acceptable parts of everyday life, and seeking help is acceptable too. In fact, going to CAPS is so normal at Duke that 12 percent of all undergraduate students go in any given year, and over the course of four years that number is 30 percent. Students should not allow common CAPS myths to prevent them from asking for help, especially the myth that they are struggling alone.


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