Mental Health Services; A True Service?


Personal experiences with Harvard’s Mental Health Services.

I remember the first time I used Harvard’s Mental Health Services. The fall had been a struggle, largely due to the punch process. Two of my best friends had used HUHS since freshmen year, and they suggested that I reach out.
I was nervous, but figured it was worth a shot.

I had never participated in any sort of therapy and was honestly terrified. Was a doctor going to simply give me drugs? Was I better off dealing with this on my own? How could I trust a stranger over my friends or family? As I listened to the automated pick-up system from HUHS, these worrying thoughts flooded my mind.

When I finally punched enough right numbers into the keypad on my phone, I ended up speaking to a blunt receptionist. She asked why I called. I answered, “I’m not really sure. I guess I was just looking for Mental Health services.” The woman who answered seemed to have no idea how hard it was for me to admit that. However, she hears these phone calls multiple times daily. Why should she acknowledge my courage for calling? From her perspective, asking for mental health services is as banal as asking for a coffee.

At the end of our brief exchange, I was informed that before I met with anyone I would need to call again and have an “initial phone consultation.” Isn’t that sort of what I’m doing now? No, it couldn’t be that simple. I was told that I would receive a call the following day from a clinician.

So I waited. Did I say something wrong on the phone? Due to my lack of experience with any mental health services, I was perplexed. However, I finally got a phone call from an anonymous 617 number: my consultation.

The woman on the other end of the phone quickly explained that she would not be my therapist. Then why am I even talking to you? She asked me why I called, and what I needed. I gave her my brief background and my main issues. She proceeded to ask about my schedule. Why wasn’t this all done yesterday?

Although Mental Health Services claims to thoughtfully pair students with therapists, I believe that finding a matched schedule is the more critical than anything. However, it is nicer to think that the match is based on compatibility rather than logistics.

At the end of my consultation, I was asked to come to the Law School later that week to finally meet with my therapist. So again I waited. I remained just as nervous as I was when I first called two days earlier. Maybe at this point I should have just gone home to my parents.

Yet I wanted to see this process through. If my friends see a benefit, maybe I would too. Later that week I went to my appointment, still having no idea what to expect from “Mental health services.” I walked into the nicely lit room with many chairs. Which chair is for me? My question was quickly answered as my wonderful therapist came in through the door and told me which seat to take.

Within our first appointment I had to rehash all of the details about why I was here. Didn’t I already say this during the phone consultation? Once I gave my background, we only had about 10 minutes left in the appointment. So now she knows everything about me, but she hasn’t helped me in the slightest.

As I put on my coat, my therapist recommended that I return in two days. Additionally, she gave me one thing to think about in the meantime. So she isn’t going to leave me. That was somewhat comforting. We squared away why I was here and now could actually begin what “Mental Health Services” is supposed to provide: a true service.
However, this “service” took almost a week to truly manifest itself. I am certain that in more dire situations, the circumstances would be different. While I don’t believe that I was a true “at-risk” patient, it still required courage for me to call and wait. Throughout the week, I considered just going home and using my mother as a therapist.

Mental Health Services is indeed in the service industry. Their sole purpose is to serve whoever comes to them. Therefore, I would ask all involved within Mental Health Services to be mindful of this fact. Many students, including myself, are frightened and dubious when they make the first call. The process of connecting a student to a therapist should be expedited and better managed so a student does not to explain their reason for calling in to three different people.

I continue to use HUHS Mental Health Services because I have found a great therapist who has helped me with various issues throughout my time here at Harvard. I believe that more students can reap these benefits if the initial interaction between a student and HUHS required fewer steps.

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