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Counseling Center

Frequently Asked Questions

by Students....

Am I eligible to use the Counseling Center?

The short answer is "yes!" but there is a longer explanation required. Any student at American University may make an appointment to consult with a Counseling Center clinician. You and a clinician will discuss together what your concerns are and what resources might be of help in resolving them. You and your clinician may continue to work together for support, problem solving, or counseling. Alternatively, your clinician may arrange for you to be assigned a different clinician whose expertise or availability make them a better match for you. Your clinician may also recommend an on-campus program or group instead of, or in addition to, individual counseling.

Assessments, crisis intervention, consultations, referrals, and other services such as workshops and self-help materials are readily available at the Counseling Center and open to all students at no charge. However, ongoing individual psychotherapy is available at the Counseling Center on only a very limited basis, generally with graduate trainee psychotherapists. Both ongoing individual psychotherapy and specialized services (such as inpatient treatment, some forms of psychiatric assessment and treatment, intensive and extensive psychotherapy, etc.) are generally seen as a student's private health care responsibility -- that is, students see private providers in the area, covering the cost with a combination of insurance benefits and out-of-pocket payments. If you need ongoing psychotherapy or specialized services, you never have to wait to begin working with a private provider -- there are abundant services available within a short distance of campus, and your Counseling Center clinician can help you connect with whatever care you need.

Health insurance, whether through AU or some other plan, will often help with the cost of off-campus psychological services. A Counseling Center clinician can support you as you determine your insurance benefits and locate an appropriate provider. You are also invited to visit our web pages about referrals and insurance.

What should I do in an emergency?

In any emergency involving physical harm or a threat to life, call AU Public Safety at x3636 if you are on campus or, if off campus, call 911. If you are in a residential building on campus, you can contact the Resident Director on duty, as well, by calling any residence hall front desk. In case of psychological emergencies during business hours, call either AU Public Safety (x3636) or the Counseling Center (x3500).

Are there any charges for services?

There are no charges for services. Groups, workshops, individual counseling sessions, and consultations are all free of charge.

How do I know where to go for help -- the Academic Support and Access Center or the Counseling Center?

These two services work closely together because academic, disability, and personal issues are often intertwined. In general, you should make your first appointment with the Academic Support and Access Center if your concerns are primarily academic (grades, writing papers, time management, exam skills, hiring a tutor, seeking accommodations for a learning disability, preparing for comprehensive exams, etc.) or if you have concerns about managing a physical or psychological disability or obtaining disability accommodations. You should make your first appointment with the Counseling Center if your concerns are primarily personal (relationship difficulties, depression or anxiety, coping with a physical or psychological disability, eating or body image, difficult life events or issues, sex or sexual orientation, coping with a loss or trauma, culture shock or adjustment, etc.). Both offices are aware that students often have related concerns in more than one area. You and the clinician you meet with can decide together whether you should make an appointment with a clinician from the other services as well, or instead.

Assessment, documentation, and accommodations related to learning disabilities and to physical or psychological disabilities are handled by the Academic Support and Access Center.

If I come in to see a clinician, I don't want my parents to know. Will you have to tell them?

The policies of the Counseling Center, the ethical principles of counseling professionals, and DC law all agree that it is important to protect the confidentiality of your conversations with a clinician. Your clinician will not speak with your parents, teachers, friends, or anyone else about your confidential concerns without your permission. There are very rare exceptions to this, such as situations involving danger to life and safety or situations involving court-issued subpoenas. Even in such very rare circumstances, you have legal protections and resources which we can discuss with you. Minor students under the age of 18 who voluntarily seek treatment in their best interests are generally afforded the same confidentiality protection as an adult student, but there are some limitations which a clinician will be happy to discuss with you (call x3500).

It often happens, though, that problems can be solved better together than alone. Many students find it very helpful for their clinician to speak with a parent, a Residential Life staff member, a Dean, or a faculty member. If you are seeing both an Academic Support Center clinician and a Counseling Center clinician, it is generally helpful for them to be in touch with one another. It is up to you and your clinician to discuss what would work best in your particular situation. If you have any questions or concerns about confidentiality, feel free to bring them up with a clinician. Or see our web page about confidentiality.

Is it true that some of the clinicians are trainees, not professionals? What if I need to see a professional?

Yes, the Counseling Center is a nationally accredited and highly-respected training site for graduate level Ph.D. and M.S.W. clinical trainees. There are no undergraduate trainees at the Center. Your first appointment at the Center will always be with either a licensed professional (social worker or psychologist) or an advanced doctoral candidate in psychology. You can be confident that your initial clinician has the training appropriate to help you address whatever concerns you might bring in.

There are two other contexts in which you might work with a graduate clinical trainee. First, you might be asked if you mind having a trainee sit in on your first appointment. You should feel perfectly free to decline, for any reason at all. The decision is yours, and your comfort is by far the most important issue.

Second, if you and your initial consultation clinician determine that ongoing weekly counseling with a trainee at the Center is appropriate, and you agree to audio- or video-taping, you might be assigned a trainee as your ongoing clinician. Your initial clinician will take great care to ensure that you are assigned to someone at an appropriate training level to help you with your particular concerns. All trainees are closely supervised by professionals, and held to the highest standards of practice.

Many students develop helpful productive therapy relationships with trainee clinicians, while other students are best served in private care with a licensed professional off campus rather than seeing a trainee on campus. Your intake clinician will be happy to discuss this decision with you, and address any other concerns you may have about the training program.

Will I get psychotherapy at the Counseling Center or off campus?

All students can use the Counseling Center as their first stop in trying to resolve whatever difficulties they are experiencing. You will either continue with the clinician you first meet, switch to another clinician or trainee, or receive a referral to an outside clinician or service, depending on what makes the most sense in your particular situation. The Counseling Center uses a time-limited model of therapy in order to accommodate the needs of all the students we serve. Most students who need ongoing counseling/treatment see a provider off campus.

If ongoing psychotherapy is indicated, there are many reasons for you to choose to go off campus rather than be seen at the Center. You might feel it is more private to have your own clinician off campus rather than coming in to the Counseling Center. You might already have the name of a clinician in the area whom you would like to see. You might prefer to see an experienced private clinician off campus rather than a trainee here on campus. You might go off campus for services that aren't available at the Counseling Center, such as formal psychiatric assessment and treatment, neurological services, intensive individual psychotherapy, drug detoxification and treatment, inpatient services, day-treatment, etc. Sometimes the only reasons for you to see a private provider rather than an on campus clinician is that you need to begin immediately rather than waiting for the next available Counseling Center psychotherapy opening.

A Counseling Center clinician is still your best first step -- someone who can listen confidentially to your concerns and help you find ways of coping with them. If you do need off campus services, your clinician can help you find services that are maximally affordable, accessible, and appropriate for you. See our pages on insurance and referrals for more information.

Does the Counseling Center prescribe medications? If I already have a prescription for medication and all I need is someone to refill it, can I do that at the Counseling Center?

The Counseling Center does not prescribe medications. However, limited psychiatric services are available at the Student Health Center. For more information about their services you can contact the Student Health Center, located on the first floor of McCabe Hall, at 202-885-3380 or visit their Website.

Many medications work best in conjunction with psychotherapy, not instead of it, so many students will see a psychiatrist who is also a clinician or see both a psychiatrist and clinician who will consult together. Psychiatric care, like ongoing psychotherapy and specialized services, are generally a student's private health care responsibility. A Counseling Center clinician can help you find a good psychiatrist and/or clinician in the DC area who is familiar with the concerns of students and will work with your insurance or on a sliding fee scale.

If you already have a prescription, don't wait until your prescription has almost run out to arrange for a refill. Think ahead. The first person to consider contacting for a refill is the health care provider who originally gave you the prescription. If that provider is not available, not acceptable to you, or is located outside of the DC area, you can contact the Counseling Center for a referral to a local provider. No responsible provider will refill your prescription without meeting with you for an initial evaluation, so you must leave enough time before your prescription runs out to connect with a new provider -- allow at least two to three weeks.

Excellent psychiatric services are available to students in the greater DC area, and a Counseling Center clinician will be glad to help you connect with them. In many cases, insurance can help with the cost. See our pages on insurance and referrals for more information.

What hours is the Counseling Center open?

We are open Monday and Thursday, 9:00 am - 6:00 pm, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, 9:00 am - 5:00 pm. We are closed Saturday and Sunday. During school breaks and the summer months we are open Monday - Friday, 9:00 am - 5:00 pm. For after-hours emergencies, call AU Public Safety at x3636 or your Housing Services staff.

How long does it take to get an appointment?

Generally, you can schedule an appointment with a clinician within a few days to a week of your call. If you are experiencing a crisis, we have Urgent Care Walk-in hours Monday thru Friday from 2:00p.m. to 4:00p.m. To schedule an Initial Consultation appointment, please call the Counseling Center at (202) 885-3500 or stop by MGC 214, Monday thru Friday between 9:00a.m.- 5:00p.m. Initial Consultation appointments are scheduled between the hours of 10:00a.m.-4:00p.m.

I think my friend needs help. How do I get them to come in to see you?

It can be very difficult for you when someone you care about is in pain. You might find yourself feeling helpless, frightened, frustrated, or angry. You can't make your friend seek help if they don't want to or don't feel they need it, but here are some things you might offer them as a friend:

  • Let your friend know, in some private setting, that you are concerned. Suggest that they make an appointment with a clinician to see if we can be of help. Try to phrase your communications in "I" language, rather than "you" language: for example, "I care about you and I feel concerned when I see you hurting" rather than "You are in trouble and you need help."
  • Offer to sit with your friend while they call for an appointment.
  • Offer to accompany your friend to the Counseling Center during Urgent Care Walk-in hours or to their Initial Consultation appointment, and either wait in the waiting area or go in to the appointment with them.
  • Cruise the web or the bookstore for information about the concern that is bothering your friend, and pass it along. Invite your friend to compare reactions with you about the information, or talk about the information with a clinician. (You can start by browsing our online Self-Help resources or our Anonymous Online Mental Health Screening.)
  • Invite your friend to look at this website with you if you see something here that might be of interest to them -- for example, the descriptions of groups, the information about confidentiality, etc.

Come in to the Counseling Center yourself and talk with a clinician about your worries about your friend. You need not tell the clinician your friend's name if you think it might upset them. By coming in yourself, you will be showing your friend how to seek out consultation and support, and making it more possible for them to do the same. See our website, Worried About Someone? for more information.