by JESS KIRBY
At UMW’s Talley Center for Counseling Services, all counselor trainees are required to record their sessions with students as a part of their training. However, a number of students who receive counseling from these trainees have said they were unprepared for how uncomfortable that process is.
“The camera was right on me, so it was really uncomfortable,” said junior economics major Lillian Isbell. “It’s hard just to go in and say you need help, much less be recorded talking about things that happened to you.”
According to Talley Center Director Tevya Zukor, this process is common in collegiate mental health. The state of Virginia requires trainees to complete 1,500 hours of counseling under direct supervision in order to obtain their license in their chosen specialty.
“Typically the simplest way, and the most effective, is we ask our trainees to record their sessions,” said Zukor. “It allows us to see probably about 50 percent more clients than otherwise we would be capable of doing.”
Before they are recorded, clients must sign a form giving the therapist authorization to record their sessions, and one of the staff members explains the reasoning behind the recordings. Clients can revoke this consent at any time.
Despite this, some expressed discomfort at being in front of a camera.
“You don’t really know what to expect until you’re there,” said senior English major Sierra Heiderman. “Once you’re actually there, and there’s just a camera in your face, it becomes totally different.”
Since most clients are only allowed to be seen on a bi-weekly basis, this proved to be frustrating to some students who felt that they wasted a session being recorded.
“I feel like they should’ve said, ‘[the camera is] going to be on your face,’ because then I probably wouldn’t have gone,” said Isbell.
After trying two different counselors on campus, Heiderman ultimately switched to a therapist outside of UMW, despite its cost.
Despite the effects recording sessions can have on clients, only a small number of students outright refuse to be recorded.
“I could probably count on my fingers and toes the number of students that have said, ‘I absolutely do not want to be recorded whatsoever,’” said Zukor. “And that’s always respected.”
In this case, the client is paired up with a senior staff member that is already licensed, and thus does not record their sessions. However, Zukor pointed out that, since there are only five senior staff members and eight trainees, it takes longer to get an appointment with a licensed staff member.
When a session is recorded, the video can only be accessed by computers on the Talley Center system, and the only people that watch them are the trainee and their supervisor. After the recording is reviewed, the video is deleted within 30 days of the session.
The ability to review sessions later enables trainees to reflect on how they can improve their skills in the future.
“There are so many things that happen in a session that are not just about what a student or a client might verbally say, but even how they might respond to something,” said Zukor. “We’re helping them attune to the non-verbal, to what we sometimes call the process of therapy, not just the content of it. That’s where video recordings help us a great deal.”
Despite the benefits to the trainees, some students feel that the cameras made the session less effective for them.
“I think because of both the cameras and the fact that [the therapist] wasn’t fully where she could’ve been in her career, I feel like I wasn’t able to accomplish anything,” said Heiderman.
The Talley Center also struggles to meet the increasing demand from students due to a lack of space – one of its closets has been converted into a small office.
Some clients felt the atmosphere could be much more comforting.
“The room that I was in was next to the kitchen, so people would come in and out and get a cup of coffee,” said Isbell. “There was no way that I could relax at all between the camera, the ambiance of the room, and the fact that people were just coming in and out.”
Heiderman suggested that clients should be allowed to see how the recording process works before they make the decision to allow the Center to record them.
“I feel like there should be some kind of practice session you get where you can figure out if that’s okay with you or not before you actually go into the sessions. Because I don’t think anyone really knows how they feel being recorded until they are,” said Heiderman.