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New program opens doors around campus for students seeking support

January 25, 2011

University Health Services (UHS) at the University of Wisconsin–Madison announced the launch of Let’s Talk, a program that lets UW–Madison students chat informally with staff from UHS Counseling and Consultation Services at drop-in centers around campus.

Starting Jan. 24, counseling staff are available for a few hours most days of the week in one of two locations around campus: Ingraham Hall and the Red Gym. Students can drop in to talk openly with counselors about issues that they’re facing or feelings that they’re experiencing.

“Making members of our staff available outside our counseling center, in locations where students may be working on class projects or hanging out with friends, helps demystify what it means to talk to a counselor,” says Amanda Ngola, director of campus-based services for UHS Counseling and Consultation Services. “The more informal atmosphere makes it easier for students to take that first step forward.”

“There are no appointments and no paperwork, and visits are in neutral locations,” says Ngola. “We want it to be easy to seek support. We want the students to know that we’re there and that our doors are always open, whether at Let’s Talk or at UHS.”

Any student can come to a Let’s Talk consultation, but it’s the best fit for students who:

  • aren’t sure about counseling and wonder what it’s like;
  • aren’t interested in ongoing counseling but would like the perspective of a counselor;
  • have a specific problem they would like someone to talk it through with; or
  • have a concern about friend or family member and would like ideas about what to do.

“Let’s Talk extends a helping hand to students who don’t usually think of counseling as an option, don’t know it’s available or just aren’t sure how to ask for help,” says Ngola.

No topic is off limits with Let’s Talk counselors, who address a variety of concerns such as stress, sadness, worry and relationships, while focusing on immediate problem-solving and next steps.

However, Let’s Talk is not a substitute for formal counseling and isn’t the same as mental health treatment, according to Danielle Oakley, director of UHS Counseling and Consultation Services.

“That’s why we refer to our staff as ‘counselor consultants,’ when we refer to Let’s Talk,” says Oakley. “The Let’s Talk counselor consultant can provide an informal consultation from time to time, but it’s not a substitute for ongoing counseling at UHS.”

Many student concerns can be effectively addressed in a short-term, informal setting such as Let’s Talk. If further counseling at UHS would be useful, the Let’s Talk staff can advise a student about how to make that transition.

“As an example, a student might come to Let’s Talk because of a major fight with a roommate,” Oakley adds. “Students often gain insight and perspective into that sort of issue in a single conversation, or maybe two. However, if during that conversation, the student realizes the fight with the roommate is connected to a larger experience of conflict, such as an abusive parent, that’s affecting other areas of life beyond this one argument, then some ongoing, formal counseling might be recommended.”

Let’s Talk consultations are available Monday through Friday. Times and room numbers can be found online.

The Let’s Talk model was developed at Cornell University and has received national recognition for its innovation and effectiveness. Several university counseling centers around the nation have also started their own Let’s Talk programs.