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Editorials

Faculty Aren’t Therapists

Counseling and Mental Health Services Office, one of the main resources available to students for support regarding a variety of issues, including anxiety and stress, is located on the fourth floor of Harvard University Health Services.
Counseling and Mental Health Services Office, one of the main resources available to students for support regarding a variety of issues, including anxiety and stress, is located on the fourth floor of Harvard University Health Services. By Kendra N. Wilkinson
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

The mental health crisis on college campuses has been extensively litigated in the media, public health journals, and even student newspapers like our own.

Yet, a solution to this persistent problem has remained elusive. A recent article in the Chronicle for Higher Education highlights how some colleges have pushed faculty to serve as first responders to student mental health challenges. Over the past year, three quarters of faculty surveyed by the Healthy Minds Network had private, individual conversations with students about their mental health struggles.

Such an institutional approach to mental health is inappropriate. Student therapy is not the job of the faculty.

Faculty are hired to research and teach, not counsel students in need. Their experience and expertise is in academia, not mental health support. They are not adequately trained to assume the role of therapist; in times of crisis, they cannot provide the professional help that students may require, to the detriment of both parties.

This does not mean that faculty should ignore or dismiss student mental health. They should still be largely compassionate and sympathetic to students undergoing mental health crises.

But the extent to which faculty should care for student mental health is academic in nature. School is a large part of the student experience, and may also be a significant stressor. In acknowledging the impact of their courses on student mental health, faculty might consider — although it’s ultimately their decision — implementing more lenient policies, such as excused mental health days, flexible deadlines, and extension banks, to reduce student stress.

Directly counseling a student could compromise the faculty-student relationship — an important professional relationship that may involve academic feedback, formal mentorship, and letters of recommendation. Instead, laxer policies would allow for students to take the space they need, without having to explicitly request accommodations or justify themselves to their professors, inadvertently overstepping their bounds in the process.

If students continue to seek out faculty for one-on-one counseling, colleges should instruct faculty to set strong boundaries. One faculty member quoted in the Chronicle described how she — somewhat jokingly — tells her students that her job title is “instructor,” not “therapist, emotional-support animal, or their mom.” This kind of gentle but explicit delineation of the role of faculty would help students understand who to approach for various concerns.

When students raise mental health concerns to their teachers, it is most productive for faculty to acknowledge the concerns and consider what course adjustments they are able to make, but ultimately point out their lack of counseling qualifications and redirect students accordingly. Faculty should be trained to understand the distinctions between various mental health offices at their college — for example, Counseling and Mental Health Services and the Disability Access Office at Harvard — so that they can best advise students on where to seek help.

But the best place for students to seek mental health help will never be faculty themselves. In college, we have teachers to teach us, and counselors to counsel us. Sticking to those roles allows each piece of our campus to work smoothly in a functioning whole.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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