How Does Counseling Work?

How Does Counseling Work?

Counseling at Penn State Harrisburg is...

  • Provided by credentialed professionals. Our staff currently includes a mix of Psychologist, Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor, Licensed Professional Counselors, Consulting Psychiatrist, Staff Counselor, and graduate practicum student.
  • Confidential. We follow strict legal and ethical guidelines regarding confidentiality.
  • Free for currently enrolled Penn State students for most of our services.
  • Tailored to meet the needs of the individual, using a variety of approaches.
  • Brief, in order to best serve the greatest number of students.


Both Pennsylvania law and professional codes of ethics emphasize the importance of confidentiality in a counseling relationship. However, law and ethics put a premium on safety and emphasize the protection of individuals. Thus, confidentiality must be breached if the counselor has reason to believe that the client may pose a threat to self or to others or cannot care for self. Confidentiality may also be broken if the counselor has reason to believe that a child or an elderly or disabled adult is in danger due to abuse or neglect or if the counselor is required to testify in a court of law. In order to provide quality services, consultation may occur within the context of clinical supervision and case management among Penn State Counseling & Disability Services staff. Records of our interactions with students are stored in our suite and are only available to Counseling staff. Counseling notes are not associated with transcripts or any other University records. As a general rule all documents are destroyed 7 years following the last interaction with Counseling staff.

Release of Information

If you wish for the counseling staff to confer with family members, roommates, instructors, Penn State staff, medical personnel, or other concerned individuals, you must sign a “Release of Information (ROI) Form.” A signed ROI will offer guidelines concerning with whom we may discuss your situation and will outline any limits on such a discussion. In some instances, an email outlining permission to release information may suffice, but an official ROI is preferable. An ROI is not mandatory if confidentiality must be breached (as described in Section A above).

Medical or Psychiatric Referrals

We contract with a psychiatrist and refer students to him as medically indicated. Students who meet with the psychiatrist are expected to also meet regularly with a member of the CAPS staff. CAPS staff and the psychiatrist will share information as part of case consultation. In addition, we may refer to other medical professionals or ask you to sign a Release of Information so we may confer with you medical provider if we believe that would be beneficial for your therapeutic progress.

Appointments and Attendance

At times our services are in very high demand and appointment times are at a premium. When a student doesn’t show up for an appointment, it prevents another student from using that time slot. We request that you inform us if you are unable to keep a scheduled counseling or psychiatrist session. Repeated ‘no shows’ may result in our asking you to seek assistance off campus (where you would likely have to pay, including for missed sessions).

Lack of Interruptions

The counseling relationship is important and we want to give our full attention to the students with whom we work. Office staff will not typically forward phone calls or knock on our doors when we are meeting with students. Unless circumstances dictate otherwise, we will not answer our office phone, check our text messages, or otherwise allow outside distractions. We ask the same of you. Please turn off your cell phone or place it on vibrate mode when we are meeting. If family or work circumstances require you to be accessible, let us know. Otherwise, please treat our time together as a time to focus on the reason that we are meeting.

Hours and Availability

We are usually on campus and available to meet with students 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. when classes are in session. We also hold some evening hours during Fall and Spring Semesters. Please do not assume that we will be able to return a phone call or email message immediately.

If a situation is urgent and our office is closed, 24/7/365 assistance is availble via:

  • Penn State Crisis Line 877 229 6400
  • Crisis Text Line Text LIONS to 741741
  • Penn State Harrisburg Police 717 979 7976

Electronic Mail

When you initially meet with our staff we will ask you your preferred method of communication should we need to contact you between appointments. Should you choose to communicate via email, please be aware that confidentiality of electronic mail cannot be guaranteed. In addition, Counseling staff may not have immediate access to nor monitor email (or other forms of communication). Do not assume that you will receive an immediate response from an email or other message.

Limits and Referrals

Due to the number of students seen by a limited number of counseling staff members, we must consider how we can best serve the students who wish to receive our services. During particularly busy times, we may limit the number of individual counseling sessions in order to provide services to those most in need of our assistance. If it appears that a specific counseling issue will need specialized training, we may refer you to a professional or agency with expertise in that area.

Evaluation of Services

The feedback we receive from students is a major component of our evaluation and assessment. You may be asked to complete an anonymous online evaluation of our services. Your name will in no way be connected with any information you provide. If you are uncomfortable with this method of data collection, please let us know. We value your feedback and wish for you to be comfortable in providing it.

Video Security

Security cameras are present at the entrances to and in the hallways of campus buildings. These cameras create video-only (no audio) recordings that are typically stored electronically for 30 to 60 days in our campus Police office. They are for general security issues only. Electronic files are not viewed live and will only be reviewed in event of a security breach. No cameras are located in individual counseling offices. Let us know if you have concerns.


It is important that you understand what you can expect from us and what we expect from you. We ask you to be prompt, to call ahead of time if you will need to postpone an appointment, and to be open with your counselor. You can expect us to be attentive, empathic, and honest, and eager to assist you.