ProtoCall enables after-hours counseling, crisis intervention

Students are now able to consult with a counselor 24 hours a day with the Counseling Center’s new ProtoCall crisis hotline.

The MU Counseling Center launched a new after-hours crisis hotline Tuesday to make assistance available to students 24 hours a day.

The center is contracting with ProtoCall, a company that specializes in providing after-hours services to university counseling centers and other mental health systems. ProtoCall has worked with counseling centers since 2005 and offers its services to more than 50 universities, according to the company’s website.

Students calling the center after the normal business hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. will have the option to leave a message with the center or be routed to a ProtoCall counselor if he or she wishes to speak to someone immediately. Any undergraduate or graduate student currently enrolled at MU is eligible to use this service at no additional cost. The counseling center provides individual and group therapy, crisis intervention and other assistance.

Counseling Center Director David Wallace said the center began searching for an after-hours service after Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin requested the center offer a 24-hour crisis intervention program.

Wallace said ProtoCall was highly recommended by peer institutions.

“I had heard from campus after campus who have utilized this approach, who have consistently praised it and talked about how effective it is at other universities,” he said. “This service (brings) us full circle in strengthening our ability to respond to students’ needs after hours. Now it is truly 24/7.”

Wallace said the Division of Student Affairs, the center’s parent department, will provide funds of $1,200 necessary to launch the program, but the overall cost and future source of funding the program have yet to be determined.

Anne Meyer, associate director for clinical services at the center, said she oversaw the process of setting up the new after-hours phone service and hopes the new program will act as an expansion of existing services after regular business hours.

“This service is essentially an extension of the MU Counseling Center,” she said. “Calls will be logged into a secure, (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act)-compliant database, and our daytime staff will be able to review all calls that have come into ProtoCall.”

Meyer said ProtoCall’s services are provided by licensed mental health professionals who have been trained in the Counseling Center’s protocol.

“This service will provide very tailored after-hours support for our campus community, as ProtoCall staff design their call parameters and train their licensed clinicians based on information specifically about our campus,” Meyer said.

Meyer said Counseling Center staff will be able to securely access information about calls, enabling them to follow up with callers when appropriate.

“Because we can review the calls, we’ll already know what concern led them to reaching out for support,” she said.

Meyer said the center will continue to collaborate with MU and Columbia police departments’ crisis-intervention-trained officers when a student is experiencing immediate risk of harm to self or others.

Christy Hutton, the Counseling Center’s outreach and communications director, said she will be actively involved in monitoring calls and following up with callers.

“I am particularly happy to be able to offer our campus community effective mental health services for urgent issues every hour of every day,” she said. “I believe offering full crisis intervention during the day and after-hours urgent support allows us to provide excellent service to our students and our entire campus community.”

Hutton said she believes the new service will allow students to receive care more quickly.

“We know that the sooner someone receives treatment, the more likely they are to make a full recovery and remain successful in school, relationships and in attaining life goals,” Hutton said. “Having one consistent service will ideally allow students to get the help they need sooner, feel better faster and get on with life.”

Students can call the Counseling Center at (573) 882-6601 or go to 119 Parker Hall. The center has on-call therapists available for students during business hours.

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