Truman plans to hire three new staff members to help address mental health

Photo by Daniel Degenhardt

Truman State University has plans to hire a psychologist, a psychiatric nurse practitioner and an equine therapist as additional mental health resources for students.

Brenda Higgins, director of the Student Health Center and Counseling Services, said the health center currently has a part-time physician and two full-time nurse practitioners that provide primary care services for psychiatric disorders and conditions, along with seven counselors at the counseling center. The University is looking for ways it can better serve students and their needs based on the results of the JED Foundation survey.

“Our goal is to provide as much on-campus service for students as we can and to collaborate with the JED Foundation committee in looking at what students identified as their needs and to provide that for them as much as possible with the constraints that we have,” Higgins said.

The University is hiring a psychiatric nurse practitioner who will be available in the McKinney Center for half of a day every week, or more if the need is shown by students, Higgins said.

Equine therapy will be offered to students hopefully starting shortly after midterm break, Higgins said. Beth Miller, an equine therapist and former Truman counselor, has agreed to return to campus on a contract basis to lead this therapy opportunity for students.

“Equine therapy is a form of therapy using horses,” Miller said. “We have a group of six to eight students, and we go out to the farm with horses, and we ask the students to do certain activities, and they are able to build metaphors that transfer to their own life and come to some solutions. Equine therapy is a solution-focused therapy where you’re engaged in action and can help come up with solutions to the reasons that they’re coming to counseling in the first place.”

Miller said students can request to participate in the equine therapy group, but most students will need a referral from counselors.

In addition to the psychiatric nurse practitioner and equine therapist, the University plans to hire a psychologist that will be shared with A.T. Still University on a 50-50 basis.

Janna Stoskopf, vice president for student affairs, said University President Sue Thomas and ATSU University President Craig M. Phelps came up with the idea of a partnership between the universities because neither campus has the individual resources to hire a full-time psychologist with a doctorate.

“We have come to the notion that if we can bring a person into Kirksville, specifically to the Truman campus, and make that service available to both Truman students as well as ATSU students, we should share the cost of that,” Stoskopf said.

Stoskopf said the universities are currently working on finalizing the job description for the position alongside a system to ensure the hours the psychologist works are tracked and paid for by the appropriate institutions. The universities are looking at hiring the psychologist primarily through Truman and contracting them out to ATSU, Stoskopf said. The position will be advertised soon.

The resources the University planned to use to help cover the cost of the psychologist and the nurse practitioner were intended to come from the increase in the student health fee, but because of the decrease in enrollment this year, Stoskopf said funds are lower.

“The reason it’s important for me to move forward on this, even though resources are lower than we anticipated, is because that’s what we told the students that is what we were going to do,” Stoskopf said. “That if they passed this increase, this is how we were going to use it, and I need to see true to my word.”