Counselling no longer a free ride

By Trenton Shaw

For University of Calgary students unlimited free counselling is a thing of the past. Beginning May 1, students who require more than three counselling sessions per year will face a fee of $25 for each additional session.

All students are still entitled to three free 50 minute sessions of individual or couples counselling at the Counselling and Student Development Centre. While the cost for additional sessions is $25, 80 per cent of this amount can be recovered through most health benefit plans. The Students’ Union Health and Dental Plan covers 80 percent of the cost of counselling to a maximum of $300 a year, resulting in a net cost of five dollars per session for students. Under the Blue Cross plan, which covers 80 percent of the cost of seeing a psychologist–who may charge $140 for a 50-minute session according to the Psychologists Association of Alberta­–the cost for an additional session of counselling will also be five dollars.

“The major reason for the fee is that we want to ensure that we can continue to offer high quality accessible services,” said U of C Associate Vice-President of Student Affairs Dr. Peggy Patterson. “Those students requiring more extensive counselling could go through the health and dental plan.”

Although the cost of counselling after benefit plan coverage is minimal, the SU Health and Dental Plan and the Graduate Students’ Association Extended Health and Dental Plans both require a doctor’s prescription to receive coverage.

“That may be a challenge,” admits Dr. Patterson. “But it should not be a difficult process for the student. It can be reassuring for the student to determine whether ongoing counselling would be the best treatment for their psychological condition.”

SU VP Academic Laura Schultz sees the need for a doctor’s prescription as both positive and negative.

“It could be hard for some students who have been going to their family doctor for 10 or 15 years to suddenly start talking about intimate or personal problems,” said Schultz. “But it could be positive too because they have to re-evaluate why they are going to counselling.”

University Health Services will also provide doctor’s prescriptions, so students may avoid the awkward situation of confronting their family doctor with personal issues.

Fees for additional sessions may be waived for students demonstrating financial difficulties or personal concerns by using a fee waiver form. Since the introduction of the new cost, one request for a fee waiver has been made and approved.

Counselling services are used by 10-12 percent of U of C students and only 416 students required more than three sessions last year. Clients of the CSDC use their services an average of 2.75 sessions each school year. Director of the CSDC Dr. Sharon Crozier feels that given the small number of students requiring more than three sessions, the fee should affect only a minority of students.

The number of sessions students have received at the CSDC will be calculated from Jan. 1 2004, and if students have had more than three sessions between Jan. 1 and May 1, 2004 they will be expected to pay the $25 fee for appointments after May 1.

According to Schultz, new fees like this are should be watched carefully by the SU.

“Student services have taken an extreme cut in the last few years, and I think that they are vital to student success,” she said.

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