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The CAPS office is open to a reduced staff and students who have urgent situations. Credit: Cindy Chen

Penn's Counseling and Psychological Services is offering reduced in-person services as well as a series of virtual mental health care options for students this fall.

After CAPS moved all operations online in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it did not reopen its office until early July. The office will remain open this fall to a reduced staff as the majority of CAPS operations will continue to be run virtually, and to date no students have yet utilized the in-person services.

Here's a rundown of what CAPS' mental health operations look like this fall.

Virtual operations

All CAPS programming — including both drop-in and standing appointments — will all be available virtually this semester. CAPS has expanded its hours from 45 to 57 per week this fall in an effort to reach students across time zones and to meet student needs. In Eastern Standard Time, CAPS is open 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays.

In March, standing and drop-in appointments shifted to confidential video-chats or phone calls, depending on student preference, and they will continue to be run accordingly this fall. 

In-person operations

CAPS reopened its office to a reduced staff in early July to evaluate more urgent student situations that would have been too difficult to manage in the virtual domain.

This fall, the CAPS office at 3624 Market Street remains open, but CAPS Senior Clinical Director Michal Saraf said no students have accessed the office yet and she expects most students will continue to access CAPS through the virtual domain. 

Saraf said even though students have not come to CAPS in person yet, it will remain as an offering both for students with urgent situations and also for students living in Philadelphia who have living circumstances that make speaking with a clinician virtually implausible. 

Let's Talk

CAPS is offering its Let's Talk program — which offers informal talk therapy to students without making them fill out extensive paperwork — this fall with reduced hours.

Saraf said the decision to cut Let's Talk's hours came after the program was far less attended following the transition to a virtual format. Let's Talk will be available for 15 hours per week as opposed to the previous 40 hours.

"The Let's Talk program is all about reaching students who might not usually come forward — for a variety of reasons — to access mental health services," Saraf said. "The program is so heavily reliant upon being present in a certain moment and being less formal than a typical appointment and it has been difficult to recreate that online."

The Let’s Talk program, which was introduced in October 2019, initially featured one clinician who traveled between five locations — The LGBT Center, the ARCH building, Van Pelt Library, the Greenfield Intercultural Center, and the Graduate Student Centereach day from Monday to Thursday. In February 2020, CAPS expanded Let's Talk by doubling its hours and adding four new clinicians who traveled to a total of eight sites on campus for drop-in, informal conversations regarding mental health. 

Saraf said she expects that CAPS will re-expand Let's Talk as the CAPS team had initially intended after the pandemic. 

Group programming

CAPS plans to hold at least six free group workshops for undergraduate students throughout the fall semester. 

One group will focus on coping with loss related to the COVID-19 pandemic and ambiguous grief, which is commonly understood as loss without closure. The group ran for the first time over the summer and was well-received by students, CAPS Associate Director of Outreach and Prevention Batsirai Bvunzawabaya said.

All group programs are limited to a small number of students — typically around seven — because students and staff have found larger groups to be less effective and more difficult to manage through BlueJeans, Bvunzawabaya said.

In addition to the group on grief, CAPS will host groups for Black students, international students, and students returning from leaves of absence, respectively, as well as groups on mindfulness skills and anxiety management.