Colleges and universities are attempting to bring science and practice together to address the mental health and well-being of college students. But they have a long way to go—the best practices that can help institutions deliver counseling and psychological services (CAPS) in higher education.
Making some headway, the Center for Collegiate Mental Health (CCMH) is a multidisciplinary, member-driven, Practice-Research-Network (PRN) focused on providing accurate and up-to-date information on the mental health of today’s college students. CCMH strives to connect practice, research, and technology to benefit students, mental health providers, administrators, researchers, and the public.
The collaborative efforts of approximately 550 college and university counseling centers and supportive organizations have enabled CCMH to build one of the nation’s largest databases on college student mental health. CCMH actively develops clinical tools, reports, and research using this data.
We need best practices for CAPS in higher education
Unfortunately, best practices available to CAPS professionals are limited at best. While the CCMH network does indeed collect reams of data, it doesn’t do well providing best practices, and especially those that focus upon prevention.
College and university CAPS professionals will tell you that our students are not well emotionally, psychologically, and physically, and those most connected to their well-being—faculty and advisers—have not been given a way to address the problem in an integrated way. Students are entering colleges and universities with expanded well-being needs and more mental and physical challenges and illnesses. And these well-being needs have not been adequately measured, let alone addressed, by faculty, front-line advisers, or university leaders.
Happiness and success from the inside-out
Harvard psychologist Dr. Shawn Achor’s research demonstrated that only 25 percent of our success comes from the intellect. The remaining 75 percent is divided among optimism levels and social supports, and the ability to see stress as a challenge instead of a threat. “If we change our formula for happiness and success, we can change our realities” (Anchor, 2010). Further, only 10 percent of our external circumstances predict our future success, which means that 90 percent stems from the lens through which we see the world and create our realities, from the inside-out.
To build students’ abilities from the inside-out, there is an increased need for academic affairs and student affairs organizations to be combined into one seamless whole in order to be better able to serve student well-being needs.
An example of the integrated model in action is at The Ohio State University, through its Office of Student Life, which is implementing a framework that extends and integrates personal wellness into career services, academic advising, and student engagement, among some twenty additional university units and departments. The mission of student affairs and student life is “to create an extraordinary student experience,” clearly attempting to provide transformational opportunities from the inside-out. If colleges and universities follow Ohio State’s lead and provide these resources, students will use them, because it is in their self-interest to do so. They will have more of what they want from college—training for a success that will last a lifetime.
The “Integrated Success Model”
One approach that leaders of CAPS in higher education can implement is the “Integrated Student Success Model,” or iSuccess, which produces happy, healthy, thriving college students through practices that are integrated across university functional areas. The iSuccess model offers higher education a new lens with which to view students, representing a breakthrough prevention model and student well-being approach.
Three research-based, high-impact practices empower students to create their own pathways to success. The Integrated Self Model (iSelf) is a framework to help students develop self-awareness through self-system and positive psychology attributes. The Self Across the Curriculum (SAC) is a pedagogy to include the teaching of self-knowledge throughout the curriculum. And the Success Predictor (SP) is a student success assessment instrument and intervention tool. These practices are shared across career counseling, academic advising, CAPS, faculty teaching, and student engagement activities.