Thursday, June 22, 2006

GW Counseling Update

A few months back, I posted about the George Washington University's policy regarding students who seek help from university counselors because they are thinking of committing suicide. Here's an article in Inside Higher Ed that offers an update. It begins:

Officials at George Washington University confirmed Wednesday that the institution has abandoned a controversial plan that would have required students seeking help at the University Counseling Center to sign a waiver in order to receive treatment. The waiver, which had been mulled for months by administrators, lawyers and counseling center officials, would have allowed information discussed during sessions with students to be shared with administrators.

“At the moment we have no plans to make changes to the waiver system currently in use,” said Tracy Schario, a spokeswoman for the university. “Pros and cons were weighed, and officials ultimately determined that the process isn’t broken.”

Currently, when students seek treatment, they are asked to fill out paperwork that conforms to widely accepted ethical and legal standards, including a consent for treatment form. As is customary at college counseling centers nationwide, students are assured of confidentiality unless they reveal information that suggests that they may harm themselves or others.

Since the plan first came to light in December, mountains of criticism have been heaped on the institution. Many mental health professionals and legal experts said that the waiver would stigmatize students who seek care, discouraging many of them from seeking help, and might conflict with confidentiality guidelines traditionally associated with psychological and psychiatric treatment.

“It was a wise move to dump it,” Richard Kadison, the chief of mental health services at Harvard University, said upon learning about the tabled plan. “It’s not really informed consent to have a generic form.” If Harvard administrators were to ask him to help adopt such a policy, he said he wouldn’t agree to it and does not believe it would be legal or ethical.

Kadison said that many administrators have felt “pressured” to enact policies that would protect their liability in the event that a student with a mental disorder were to harm himself or others.

Schario acknowledged that the ongoing Jordan Nott case against the university did play a role in the consideration of the proposal. The former GW student claims he was forced to leave the institution and threatened with criminal prosecution after he sought help for depression at the university’s counseling center. The university’s lawyers have defended the removal and suggested that Nott’s conduct could have barred his recovery if he remained at GW.


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