CAPS offering services to support students remotely through spring and summer

April 29, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As the global coronavirus pandemic continues to impact people around the world, Penn State students’ lives look vastly different today than they did just a month ago. For many, levels of stress and anxiety are elevated amid the changes to home, school and work. 

To provide support to students from a distance during this critical time, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) remains open and is continuing to offer a range of services, including same-day phone support, individual counseling sessions, a new You@PSU self-help portal and daily virtual LifeHacks sessions for students.

“We know our students are going through significant changes and challenges during this unprecedented time. For those who need support, CAPS, along with a variety of other programs and resources, continue to be available to help students as they adjust to and navigate the complexities of these circumstances,” said Damon Sims, vice president for Student Affairs. “While we are not physically together, our commitment is unwavering to our students across all campuses.”

With the transition to remote learning — and in accordance with federal and state social distancing requirements — CAPS has adjusted operations to continue to provide mental-health services to students who are scattered throughout the United States and beyond.

“We care deeply about our students and are committed to helping them navigate this situation and supporting their mental and emotional well-being,” said Ben Locke, senior director for Counseling and Psychological Services. “This is a stressful time, and we want any student who is experiencing difficulties or questioning if they need help or would benefit from counseling to call us.”

At this time, CAPS is providing telephone-based services to all students, as well as offering video-based counseling for students who reside in states that permit tele-counseling over state lines. 

To get support, University Park students can call CAPS at 814-863-0395 Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., and students at Commonwealth Campuses can contact the CAPS office at their campus location. In addition, when CAPS is closed, both the Penn State Crisis Line (1-877-229-6400) and the Crisis Text Line (text “LIONS” to 741741) are still available 24/7 for all students who are in crisis or need support.

While the logistics of providing counseling and therapy to students have changed in the last month, CAPS is a phone call away regardless of where a student is located, according to Locke, who said CAPS is working through state-by-state regulations for providing services.

When a counselor connects with a student by phone, they’ll develop a plan and work with the student on a case-by-case basis. For example, an initial phone call could be a one-time consultation related to a specific problem; could lead to tele-mental-health services, if permitted in a student’s state of residence; or could help a student identify and establish services where they live.

Students at all Penn State campuses also are encouraged to use the following virtual wellness services:

  • You@PSU: You@PSU is a new online portal that gives students one place to access comprehensive resources, tools and information on a range of topics, including mental and emotional well-being, academics, career success, relationships and more. The portal also offers valuable content related to COVID-19 such as working and learning remotely, managing fears and anxieties, and staying connected while physical distancing. Students can create a confidential profile to discover hundreds of personalized tips and resources.
  • Life Hacks: Life Hacks sessions are now being offered remotely for all Penn State students. The free, drop-in gatherings are offered twice daily via Zoom, staffed by CAPS therapists and address transition-related stressors, positive coping strategies to reduce distress and tips to increase well-being.
  • WellTrack: WellTrack is an interactive, self-therapy tool available to students at any time of day, from any location. WellTrack features a wellness assessment that students can take one time, or on an as-needed basis, to help them understand the activities associated with when they feel better and worse, and to identify patterns in their daily activities and how they are feeling. WellTrack also includes programs that can be completed at a student's own pace with content focused on anxiety and stress, depression and public speaking.
  • Thriving Campus: Thriving Campus is an online directory that can help students find a mental health provider in their community. The site provides a list of off-campus, licensed mental health clinicians, many of whom specialize in working with students, and resources and tips for securing care.

During the remote learning period, student organizations and classes can invite CAPS professionals to attend virtual meetings to share tips and provide guidance on alleviating stress and boosting emotional and mental well-being. CAPS also is continuing to offer consultations to friends, family members, faculty and staff who are concerned about a student suffering from emotional distress. In addition, the Red Folder guide is available to help faculty, staff and others who interact with students to recognize, respond to and refer distressed students.

During this time of transition, like other college counseling centers, CAPs is following the various rules that dictate telemedicine and the delivery of HIPPA-compliant mental-health care across state lines. HIPAA regulations are in place to safeguard and protect the privacy of patient information, including the transfer and storage of data on digital channels when providing tele-health services.

To contribute to a larger national effort to help other universities navigate these circumstances, Penn State is collaborating with a network of counseling centers to help institutions abide by state and national guidance when providing telehealth services and treating students across state lines. Together, Penn State and the University of Texas at Austin created a central repository with information on the rules and laws across each state for professional counselors, psychiatrists, psychologists, marriage and family therapists, and social workers.

“As we navigate the unprecedented circumstances and unique challenges of the pandemic, we are open for any student who has a need,” Locke said. “Our goal continues to be to support our students’ academic progress, social development and emotional well-being.”

Along with CAPS, the following additional resources are among those available to students who have questions about academics or a variety of other topics:

For the latest updates and information on Penn State’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, including an extensive FAQ and information specific for students, faculty and staff, visit psu.edu/virusinfo.

Last Updated April 29, 2020