When our spring semesters were cut off, I was left with loose ends. My best friends are all holed up in their houses, and Houseparty hangouts aren’t much consolation when we don’t have a clear New Haven homecoming date. I hadn’t really realized how much of a life I made for myself at Yale — how much of myself I had thumbtacked to everyday places and habits strewn across the Elm City. (But actually, my ID is tacked to my dorm wall. Please let me get it, Dean Chun.)
The transition from school to home life has been disagreeable to all of us in one way or another. And although Yale has tried to ease the financial and academic burden of returning home, it has not done enough for the mental health of its students. When Yale pulled the emergency brake on our semester, some out-of-state students no longer had access to Yale’s Mental Health & Counseling psychotherapy resources.
My purpose is not to disparage Yale Mental Health & Counseling. On the contrary, Yale Mental Health & Counseling is a department through which half of the Yale student body passes before it graduates. I think it’s fantastic that they provide quality care to so many students for free.
But with more student traffic, more is at stake. Discontinuing access to mental health resources for any patient pulls the rug out from underneath them at a time when continued access to psychological support should be our top priority. We must demand that Yale Mental Health & Counseling continue to provide remote access to their clinicians in states that don’t have conflicting laws. For those that do, we must demand that they give students referrals to local clinicians so that the students can continue to get care.
The university has advised patients to call their therapists to “develop a plan for care while away from campus,” but out-of-state students remain unsure about potential obstacles. Providing any kind of remote medical services across state lines can pose a slew of legal challenges. Generally, mental health practitioners must pass a licensing exam to be authorized to provide services. Each state gives a different exam reflecting the state-specific legal requirements for clinicians, such as mandatory disclosure and how long therapists must keep clinical documents.
For Yale Mental Health & Counseling, this licensing requirement is usually a non-issue. After all, when students meet with Yale’s psychologists, both they and the psychologists are in the state of Connecticut. To Yale’s credit, Chief of Mental Health & Counseling Paul Hoffman clarified that there is no blanket Yale policy barring out-of-state patients from access. He said that while there “may be a variety of options for students depending on their location and treatment needs, we will work with each student to make sure an appropriate plan is made.”
Psychologists often cannot provide therapy for out-of-state patients unless they are licensed to practice in the state where their patient is at the time of the service. That’s very roughly how licensing works — that is when we aren’t in the throes of a deadly global pandemic. But in light of the coronavirus, many U.S. states have relaxed licensing requirements for interstate telehealth services. All jargon aside, the upshot is that Yale could continue to provide mental health and counseling services remotely to many students. The Association of State and Provincial Psychology compiled a great resource outlining which states have relaxed their mental health licensing requirements in response to the coronavirus. Yale Mental Health & Counseling should determine which states have relaxed their requirements, and continue to offer telehealth services to all students living in those states.
For students whose states don’t allow out-of-state providers, Yale should provide patient-specific referrals so that students can determine whether it is logistically or financially feasible to continue care in their home states. To be fair, providing patient-specific referrals would require a significant amount of research and time from the Yale Mental Health & Counseling professionals. But for Yale’s most vulnerable students, researching a local, quality and affordable mental health provider is neither easy nor a number one priority.
And frankly, Yale should be making it as easy and clear as possible for students to continue getting care. I think we should expect Yale to be the standard-bearer for what responsible and professional care looks like. Providing patient-specific referrals to students would be a huge step in that direction.
It’s been eight days now since Yale students have had to leave campus. Many students are in the midst of some of the most uncertain and worrying times of their lives. Yale’s Mental Health & Counseling ought to provide continued care for as many out-of-state students as it can and give referrals to those it can’t. That’s a lot to ask, no doubt, but it’s a move in the right direction for Yale students and administrators alike.
SAMMY LANDINO is a junior in Grace Hopper College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Editor’s note, Mar. 24: This article has been adapted from its original version to better reflect that Yale Mental Health & Counseling has made no uniform policy preventing out-of-state students from accessing their therapists.