Sacred Heart U. graduate students can video or text chat with a therapist for free

The University of the Sacred Heart is offering more than 1,250 graduate students free virtual or text-based sessions with an advisor, starting this fall.

The University of Fairfield, Connecticut uses Uwill, a teletherapy platform where students and providers create online profiles and are matched through machine learning. Students can also choose providers based on the issues they are facing, such as depression or stress management. Then, users communicate with advisors via virtual sessions or SMS.

The platform works on a credit system, so each graduate student will receive 240 free credits for the calendar year. That works out to about eight half-hour sessions, James Geisler, director of counseling at the Sacred Heart, told EdScoop. Providing flexible virtual sessions to graduate students makes sense as they can balance their personal responsibilities with academic work and hands-on research, he said.

“You can be away for the day’s practice and it might not be that easy to get to a counseling office,” Geisler said.

The university opened the Uwill service on Aug.31, and around 60% of students who have created an account have already accessed a session, Geisler said.

According to a report from the Council of Graduate Students and the Jed Foundation, a mental health nonprofit, two-thirds of students graduating from a 2020 national survey scored low on signs of well-being. Of the graduate deans surveyed, only about 58% said their institution had a plan in place to support the mental health of graduate students.

Sacré-Coeur workers have already seen an impact on campus mental health services by offering hybrid services to its undergraduate population, Geisler said. Students show up for more sessions than when there were only in-person appointments, he added.

“We have counselors who are no longer sitting in their desks when a student cancels or doesn’t show up,” Geisler said. “They have the ability to really have their full-time schedule and be there for students when they need it.”

More universities are providing online mental health services in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, with the University of Wisconsin inviting students this fall for a 30-day mental health challenge. This initiative involves an app developed from campus researchers, but there are also a number of third-party platforms for online mental health practice or therapy, including Calm and BetterHelp. Some systems partner with these providers, such as the New Hampshire Community College System, which has partnered with BetterHelp to provide free online therapy.

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