Skip to main content
CAPS Story

CAPS Continues to Evolve to Better Meet Student Needs

We’re always thinking about: What practices are we doing. They should be practices of repair, of shared values.”

Laura Sevilla
Staff Therapist & Liaison to Latinx Students

Counseling Center Builds Team of More Diverse Staff, Same-Day Access

If you have no prior experience with mental health care, or if you’ve had a bad experience in the past, your choice about whether to go to Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at Northwestern will probably be informed by assumptions about its reputation or by popular ideas about what it means to go to therapy.

This can lead students to steer clear of mental health resources on campus, regardless of the changes CAPS has made to its services and counseling staff. But CAPS’s staff are fully dedicated to building trust and relationships with students, facilitated by a more diverse staff, re-organization in support of values-based work and expanded collaboration with student and campus partners.

CAPS is a team of psychiatrists, psychologists, licensed social workers, professional counselors and other staff who provide in-house mental health resources to all students.

“It has really felt different these last two years,” says Nick Jenkins, staff therapist and associate director of community-based intervention. “We’re building relationships with people, word-of-mouth is spreading and people are reaching out in higher numbers — both for same-day drop-in hours and collaboration on mental health programming.”

Going in for your first therapy session in a new environment can be a stressful situation. It can make a student feel like they’re committing to something — a weekly check-in, your name on a list or some other vague obligation — that they may not be ready for.

To help address this, CAPS has been increasing student engagement efforts through awareness events (such as Eating Disorders Awareness Week), gathering spaces and even open houses for students to enjoy throughout the quarter.
In addition, CAPS made sure that the new people it brought in would address students’ requests that they “have staff that look like us.” This included hiring more therapists of color, therapists who specialize in LGBTQ+ issues and multilingual counselors for international students.As CAPS worked to diversify its staff, it was also building relationships with cultural and community groups to create affinity-based spaces that link back to CAPS and its ability to help with identity-specific mental health issues, bringing back to life programs that support systemically marginalized communities.

Some of these support programs are hosted in Campus Inclusion and Community settings such as the Multicultural Center, the Gender & Sexuality Resource Center and the Black House, including designated gathering spaces for Latinx students (Sana Sana) and international students (Coffee Talk). These affinity programs embody the work of care in the Northwestern community and put CAPS’s stated values into practice.

“We’re always thinking about: What practices are we doing?” says Sevilla. “They should be practices of repair, of shared values.”

In these ways and more, CAPS systematically reviewed students’ most common concerns and addressed each one deliberately and thoughtfully.

CAPS has also collaborated with student organizations like the Associated Student Government and the Interfraternity Council.

“We’re no longer always having to initiate conversations with these groups,” says Sevilla. “They’re reaching out to us because others have had good experiences, which means a lot.”

CAPS has experienced consistent growth across quarters for the past two years, demonstrating the effect of word-of-mouth as Jenkins and Sevilla both mentioned.

“It’s not just about improving clinical services, incorporating changes, and diversifying staff,” said Sevilla. “It’s also about building community.”

The shorter waiting times are also thanks to the expansion of staff, including the addition of dedicated client-care coordinators, who assist many students with post-assessment referrals. These coordinators accompany and support students as they get connected to community resources.

Beyond these comprehensive changes that have already been successfully implemented, CAPS continues to prioritize maintaining transparent, non-defensive spaces to get honest feedback from students.

“We’re not okay with just sitting on our laurels and staying where we’re at,” Jenkins echoed. “We want to be better.”

Over the next few weeks, we will be putting out shorter articles answering specific questions students might have about CAPS, including:

  • What happens when I walk in?
  • What is involved in an initial assessment?
  • Who am I going to talk to?
  • And what will happen after I leave?
  • The goal is to demystify as much of this process as possible.