Habif Mental Health to become Center for Counseling and Psychological Services

| Editor-in-Chief

Habif Mental Health will be changed to the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services. (Lydia Nicholson | Student Life)

This year, Washington University’s student medical center Habif Health and Wellness has split its mental and physical health services into administratively distinct centers. The mental health side is now the newly-named Center for Counseling and Psychological Services (CCPS), while Habif will refer only to the University’s physical-health services. 

Dr. Kirk Dougher, Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Support and Wellness, said that the split is largely internal, and that students can expect the same services and level of care as when both mental and physical medical services were under one Habif umbrella. 

The shift into separate entities, however, allows for CCPS to apply for various accreditations. One, Dougher said, is from a national group — the American Psychological Association — and two others will allow for CCPS to host training for graduate students. 

Dougher said that the biggest change coming out of the split will be two novel training programs: one for practicum students before they pursue a doctoral degree in clinical psychology, and a doctoral internship for students in their last year of a psychology degree. 

Dr. Cristie Cunningham, Associate Director of Counseling and Psychological Services, started at WashU two years ago. One of the goals of hiring her, she said, was to help develop the training services. 

Already, four practicum students — one from the Brown School, and three from local Ponce Health Sciences University — have started at CCPS. New students at the center are oriented in risk assessment, HIPAA, diversity and equity, and managing the electronic medical-records system before beginning to manage a caseload. 

Over the next year, CCPS will be applying for another accreditation to accept up to four doctoral interns alongside a new class of practicum students. Cunningham said that ideally, a group of up to four interns would start at the beginning of the 2024-2025 academic year. 

Habif has historically faced criticism from students about difficulties in accessing timely mental health care. Dougher said the training program will ideally help address some of those concerns by adding to the pool of counselors that can accept clients. 

Both practicum students and interns will see patients, though Cunningham said that practicum students will have a higher level of supervision from a more senior staff member. 

“In my mind, it’s almost like two therapists in one. They’re doing the work, and they’re also talking with their supervisor and have a lot of oversight and a lot of feedback,” she said. 

Cunningham, who is closely involved with the recruitment and training process, said that CCPS will be looking to accept people with some involvement in counseling already under their belt. 

“[We want to] make sure that our WashU students are still getting high-quality care when they’re at our center,” she said. Additionally, a screening process will help determine whether a case is appropriate for a student with less professional experience, and undergraduates can always opt to see a full-time staff member instead. 

Another advantage of the training programs, Dougher said, is that CCPS will have a close proximity to multiple highly trained new counselors after they finish their residency — historically difficult people to hire, given the high demand for psychologists across the country. 

“This would be that upper echelon of training that we would have, potentially, first dibs [on] recruiting out of,” he said. 

CCPS will be recruiting for interns and practicum students nationally and locally beginning in October, with up to eight combined slots for the following August. Cunningham said that there’s no preference for WashU-affiliated kids, though Dougher said CCPS may reach out to the Psychological and Brain Studies department to advertise the program to their students.  

“I wouldn’t say that there’s an advantage. I think that we’re really looking at each person individually,” Cunningham said. “But, we do love having the WashU students.”

Aside from the new accreditations, Dougher said that not much will change for patients at the new center. CCPS will offer the same services as before, and will continue to connect patients to Habif doctors when needed. 

“I don’t anticipate any new additions because of the split or any new reductions because of the split; however, we are continuing to collaborate with each other,” Dougher said.  

And while there are not yet publicized plans to create a separate physical space for CCPS, both Cunningham and Dougher are crossing their fingers for their own building. 

“We are maxed out on space,” Cunningham said.

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