Will Meek, Assistant Director of Counseling and Training at the University of Portland’s Health and Counseling Center, will begin a new position at Brown University in Providence, R.I. as the Director of Psychological and Counseling Services in late March.
Meek told The Beacon he decided to apply for the position at Brown because he was intrigued by the mental health program they are building.
“I'm really looking forward to working with the Brown faculty, staff and students on increasing access to care, and building a broad coalition of people dedicated to mental health and wellness on campus,” Meek said.
Reflecting on his time at UP, Meek is confident that he’s leaving the counseling side of the center in a better state than it was when he came in.
During his four years on The Bluff, Meek has made considerable contributions to the center. When he first arrived in 2012, the average wait time for a counseling appointment was two weeks. He’s narrowed that down to just two days. In his first year, just 8 percent of the student body utilized the counseling center’s services. Last year, he says 24 percent, or nearly 1 in 4 students, came in for counseling at some point.
“When I first came in, we just weren’t serving very well,” Meek said. “If you’re depressed or anxious and you need to see somebody, you don’t want to wait two weeks.”
Meek said he and his colleagues came up with a way to see more clients while providing better care for them by offering 20-minute initial consultations that focus on immediate concerns instead of 50-minute ones that focused on background information that, while helpful for the psychologist, did little to immediately help the client.
“I think if you can give people the care they want, when they want it, that creates an important individual story that they tell – ‘I actually got in after two days and it was helpful,’ versus ‘I called and waited two weeks and then it wasn’t that helpful and I’m even worse off now,’” Meek said. “Those two pieces, they go hand in hand, and I feel like I’m walking out the door very different in those respects than when I walked in.”
In addition to reducing the wait time for appointments, he attributes the increase in coverage to the work he and his colleagues have done to reduce the negative associations with using the counseling center.
“I think our reputation has shifted dramatically since I started,” Meek said. “A lot of people thought it wasn’t cool or wasn’t helpful… But I think nowadays, if you’re asking people, especially folks that have come in the last two or three years, I think you’ll hear a lot different story about what we do. I think the biggest part was being able to be out there actually talking to students, actually have a face for the mental health part of our service, and being able to rehabilitate our image by showing that we changed.”
During his time at UP Meek was also instrumental in convincing the University to hire an additional full-time psychologist for the counseling center. Last Spring, Meek and his colleagues presented to the ad hoc committee on mental health that University President Father Mark Poorman appointed in Nov. 2015, urging the university to hire another full-time psychologist.
The psychologist was hired in summer 2016.
“Leadership all the way from here to Father Poorman really (added to) mental health being important on campus,” Meek said.
Meek says he will miss UP students’ willingness and ability to mobilize about issues they find important to create lasting change in administrative issues on campus.
He points to three times during his tenure at the University when he saw students take on an issue to create change, including the 2012 addition of a nondiscrimination clause to UP’s inclusion statement, the 2016 increase of mental health resources and conversation, and the push to evaluate Title IX policies and procedures that the Title IX ad hoc committee is currently addressing.
“All three of those pieces started with the students,” Meek said. “Students organized and shared their voices, came together and mobilized, and I watched all three times the staff and the administration really respond to that and do something legitimate about it. Not everywhere works like that.”
He says he’ll also miss the collaborative staff he works with at UP and the type of counseling work he gets to do with the students here.
“I feel like we have a very curious, invested, caring student body and being able to work individually in therapy with people who are trying to grow and do the right thing, and are open minded about their own lives is also pretty unique,” Meek said.
Meek said the position for a replacement director of the counseling center is open and has had applicants online but said he was not sure when the replacement would begin. Additional local counselors will be brought into the counseling center to take appointments in the meantime.