Letter to the Editor – May 3



Dear Editor,

I am writing in response to the April 20th editorial, “Recent Dialogue Sheds Light on Lack of Campus Resources”. While I agree with the spirit of the editorial, I take issue with some specific statements and their implications.

The editorial acknowledges that this is a time “rife with emotion and tension” and that many students feel isolated or silenced in the midst of emotional pain. I hear a clear desire for more help, support and acknowledgement coupled with a sense of frustration and disappointment that such support has not been readily visible, available and accessible.

As a psychologist and an alumnus of Occidental College, I want nothing more than to provide this support. I can say the same for all staff working at Emmons Health Center. We have chosen a profession dedicated to providing relief from isolation, focused on walking with people through recovery and healing.

The editorial criticizes Emmons in three specific ways: First, that Emmons has not been visible throughout the campus during this time of need, second, that Emmons has not advocated for the expansion of mental health services on campus, and third, that Emmons staff lack the basic training and competence appropriate for the students of the College.

I want to acknowledge that the first criticism is valid. While Emmons Counseling has been involved in numerous outreach and training projects, and does indeed provide groups for students, we have not fulfilled our goals in terms of prevention, health education, health promotion and outreach. We absolutely should be more visible on campus. Our struggle to sustain outreach projects is not a result of carelessness, indifference, or lack of desire. It is a matter of resources – time and money. In this respect, we are “ill-equipped.” We would love to expand our hours, facilitate large groups, and offer more – but we don’t have the funding to do so.

The second and third criticisms are misinformed. First, let me address the implication that Emmons has not made efforts to expand. I have been singularly dedicated to the expansion of services since I began in 2008. And each year, we have added staff or expanded in some manner. In 2008, we were staffed by one full time psychologist, and one full time masters level therapist. Today, we are staffed by two full time psychologists, one part time psychologist, and three part time masters level therapists. We also have added psychiatric services and begun running groups. Most recently, I co-wrote the proposal for the $1,000,000 Mose-Firestone Gift to the Endowment to support the mental health of the students at Occidental College. These monies have been used to add a part time psychologist. Why do we continue to struggle despite this expansion? The utilization of Emmons Counseling has more than doubled in the last three years. Essentially, we are barely able to see all the students who currently request counseling.

The editorial states that “students would be more likely to seek help from Emmons if it was staffed with trained psychologists rather than ill-equipped interns.” As noted above, more than half of our service hours are provided by psychologists. A portion of them are provided by master’s level therapists who are completing clinical psychology doctorates in graduate programs approved by the American Psychological Association. Our interns participate in an intensive training program at Emmons. The presence of an intern training program is in no way unique or a reflection of Oxy’s lack of commitment to mental health. The majority of college counseling centers, community mental health clinics and agencies across the country employ a training model. I can say without reservation that the staff at Emmons Counseling have all received adequate training and are fundamentally sound. Is it the case that every counselor is going to be a perfect match for every student? No. But this is a reality in every mental health facility.

My greatest concern about this recent editorial is the possibility that these misinformed statements will contribute to stigma and act as a barrier to services – that Emmons is basically not good enough to be theplace to go for support, which may very well give students who feel anxious about seeking help more reason to remain isolated.

What we need is advocacy. It is my hope that all students, faculty, staff, administrators and alumni that care about the mental health of students and the general community will choose to get involved in a process that has been in place for some time – the expansion and improvement of mental health services. The more enjoyable part of my Occidental Weekly reading experience yesterday involved an article acknowledging the formation of Active Minds, a nationally recognized advocacy group by students Dana Rust and Mikayla Branz. I encourage students to join them so we can work together. I also encourage anybody who has any concerns, hopes or needs regarding mental health services on campus to contact me directly at mgcalkins@oxy.edu or 323-259-2820.


Matthew Calkins, PsyD, CGP

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Certified Group Psychotherapist

Interim Co-Director, Emmons Health Center

Director, Emmons Counseling Services.

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