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Credit: Greg Boyek

Counseling and Psychological Services has existed at Penn for decades, said CAPS Director Bill Alexander, but in the past few years, both the resources offered and the discussion around mental health at Penn have grown exponentially. 

From the fiscal year of 2012 to the fiscal year of 2016, funding for CAPS increased by 24 percent. Consequently, between 2014 and 2016 the University increased funding to CAPS by approximately $860,000. The additional funds have helped CAPS hire new staff, allow more students to receive treatment and shortened wait-times. 

Now located at 3624 Market Street, CAPS was once housed on the top floor of the current President's House before it moved to what is now the office of the Vice Provost for University Life. In 2015, CAPS was forced to vacate its last location on 36th and Walnut streets, when plans were announced to build the Ronald O. Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics.  

Photos from Marjun O. Gartland

Making an appointment

There are three ways to make an appointment at CAPS: Students can walk in during business hours, reach CAPS clinicians over the phone at 215-898-7021or fill out an Online Initial Request Form on the CAPS website.

At the initial consultation, a CAPS clinician will ask a series of questions about “personal and private information.” This lasts about 15 minutes. The clinician will then instruct the student on what the next step might be, which might be scheduling an initial appointment, attending a CAPS group or workshop or connecting to other resources on campus or in the community.

Attending group programing

There are three different types of group programs, and each has a different procedure to attend.

Issue-specific therapy groups are designed to address specific issues, such as eating concerns or sexual assault. Students are referred to one of these groups by a CAPS clinician and generally complete a screening beforehand. Then you will complete an online form expressing interest in the group, and a leader of the group will contact you.

There are also drop-in groups, which require no registration and workshops that students can choose register for all sessions or for specific sessions depending on the workshop.

What's new at CAPS

CAPS extended its hours this year for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. and added weekend hours on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

CAPS also hired four new staff members to serve at four of Penn's graduate schools: Penn Law School, Perelman School of Medicine, School of Veterinary Medicine and School of Dental Medicine. The new employees will spend six-to-ten hours each week at their respective schools and spend the rest of the time working as full-time CAPS employees.

In the next few weeks, CAPS also plans on changing the way after-hours calls are received. In the past, when students called after regular business hours, they would be directed to the operator of the Penn Presbyterian Medical Center. The operator would then page a CAPS clinician, who would be responsible for returning the patient's phone call. Starting from this semester, however, students will be connected to a CAPS clinician the moment they call in, Alexander said. 

This year, CAPS is also working on better utilizing the Outpatient Psychiatry Center on 3535 Market St. Alexander said this option is optimal for students who have been taking the same medication for a prolonged period of time and who do not require the time of CAPS clinicians. This would gives CAPS clinicians more time to address patients facing more critical situations.

CAPS is also continuing its efforts to expand I CARE, a unique program focused on training members of individual communities with skills and resources necessary for dealing with mental health issues. CAPS Director of Outreach and Prevention Meeta Kumar highlighted the launch of the “Cultivating Calm” workshop, which is part of the growing mindfulness program. 

In addition to some specialized workshops, CAPS has added more resources for students who choose to take leaves of absences for mental health reasons or otherwise. Together with other groups like Penn Wellness, CAPS helped participated in the first Returning Students Orientation on Friday, Sept. 8. 

At the event, CAPS employees, Jane Kotler and Mara Capistrano, emphasized the Returning Students Group, a support group that Alexander said more students returning from leaves of absence could benefit from.