Screenshot taken from Therapy Assistance Online

New online counseling service offers flexibility to students

A free service for students to get online counseling has expanded this semester, providing an alternative to face-to-face therapy.

Therapist Assisted Online guides students through short daily exercises and weekly private video conferences with USC counselors.

"It teaches you about the mental illness that you may have," second-year marketing and management student Sharon Maguire said. "If you have any questions about [your condition], they have these modules and these videos that explain to you."

TAO was used by 56 internally referred students last year. This year, it started being marketed to the entire student population with posters and information online, according to Marjorie Duffie, the marketing and public relations director for Student Health. Because the semester is still in progress, the counseling center doesn't yet have numbers on how many more students are using the service.

"Once we start getting the word out, it’s going to grow over time," said Warrenetta Mann, the campus director of counseling and psychiatry. "And then at some point it’ll plateau and the students who need it will know how to find it."

For students with busy schedules, the online exercises are more flexible than scheduling appointments with counselors in the Close-Hipp building. Because of the face-to-face aspect, though, students still have to go through the in-person triage process shared by all counseling services to get started with TAO. Getting a triage appointment scheduled can take up to two weeks, but after that the seven-to-nine week TAO program is on the student's own time.

"TAO allows you to get effective treatment when your schedule, or life, makes it hard to get to the counseling center," according to the Student Health website.

Students frequently have to wait up to four weeks between appointments for traditional counseling, so the exercises and 10- to15-minute weekly video time with a counselor can fill in the gaps for students who want more consistent assistance.

Third-year public relations student Kaitlin Harrison used a different service in 2016 that also allows online communication with a USC therapist, and said that the anonymous contact helped her to approach counseling.

Students struggling with anxiety or depression may feel uncomfortable or lack motivation with speaking to a therapist that they don't already have a relationship with.

"Going through that online platform first was just good," Harrison said. "I didn’t have to look someone in the eye and tell them that there was something wrong in my brain that I couldn’t control. When you can’t control your thoughts and your feelings, it’s hard to tell someone that."

TAO also offers a self-help service that doesn't require the triage process, so students can start at any time.

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