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Let’s Talk is an outreach program designed to engage students by providing informal walk-in consultations with clinician at sites outside of the counseling center across campus.
History and Philosophy of the Program
Let’s Talk was developed in 2006 at Cornell University to reach students in distress who might be unlikely to seek traditional mental health services. Currently, over 50 other counseling centers are engaging in Let’s Talk programming.
This service is called “informal consultation” and is different from formal counseling. One difference relates to its accessibility. There is no paperwork to fill out (other than short informed consent), no formal intake, no appointments, and no fees. All consultations occur outside of the counseling center in buildings where students, who may be less likely to attend traditional counseling, visit for other services. Students are encouraged to drop by and talk about whatever is important to them, much as they might talk with a TA, residence hall director, or academic adviser. Students are also allowed to meet anonymously if they prefer and meetings have no set time length.
Consultation and Engagement
Another difference is the goal of a Let’s Talk consultation. The goal of a consultation, and the primary goal of Let’s Talk in general, is engagement. The clinician listens, empathizes, problem-solves, provides mental health and general health information, conducts informal needs assessments, offers advocacy and referrals, and — most importantly — plants the seeds of a relationship to facilitate the student seeking additional help if necessary. It is akin to the kind of pre-counseling conversation one might have with a student after giving an outreach presentation on campus. As such, it is not considered a “clinical” service.
A number of students are served by a one-time consultation. Others benefit from intermittent, as-needed visits. Some are referred to the Health and Wellness Center for treatment following a brief assessment. Having made a positive, informal first contact with a clinician is usually sufficient to mitigate any lingering barriers to accessing mental health services at the Health and Wellness Center.
Though Let’s Talk is designed to be a short-term intervention, occasionally a student may visit more than once or twice when barriers are robust. For example, some students need more help than one visit can provide but find accessing services at the Health and Wellness Center very uncomfortable. They may need multiple visits at Let’s Talk to be ready to accept a referral. However, Let’s Talk is not a substitute for regular counseling and should not be treated as such.
Though the primary mission of Let’s Talk is to reach students who do not conventionally seek mental health services, many other students come simply because of the convenience and immediacy. A Let’s Talk consultation can often head off a crisis before it happens, facilitate a quick referral to the Health and Wellness Center, and, in many cases, prevent the unnecessary use of Health and Wellness Center initial assessments for students who need a simple, brief intervention.
The Let’s Talk program at the Lake Forest College is modeled on the “Let’s Talk” program at Cornell University. We feel gratitude to our colleagues at Cornell for the name, idea, access to their materials and for sharing their expertise and experience.