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Volume 9, Number 4: December 20, 2002

UW-Eau Claire's Counseling Website Reaches Out to the World

by Tammy Kempfert,
TTT Editor


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Richard Boyum, a psychologist at UW-Eau Claire's Counseling Center, is using technology to get up close and personal with the world.

With the help of student worker Shawn Everhart, Boyum has created a website for the Center that receives approximately 900 hits a day--or at last count, almost 30,000 hits a month--from all over the globe. Recently featured in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the current site originated more than a year ago, when a client challenged Boyum to improve upon the Center's limited online offerings. He took up the challenge to develop one of the most comprehensive counseling sites available on the World Wide Web.

The website's easy-to-navigate simplicity is a testament to its mission: "People come to the page looking for information, not flash," says Everhart. But what distinguishes UW-Eau Claire's page from other sites is its extensive self-help section. Visitors can browse through more than a hundred items on a variety of topics, including eating disorders, substance abuse, holiday stress, and relationship problems.

They can also download motivational posters, meditate to gentle music and nature photography, and view Boyum's video, "Hot Tips for Better Mental Health." The "Send to a Friend" function allows visitors to forward any page to others in need of help. And Boyum and Everhart pay particularly close attention to user statistics to help them gauge what visitors find most valuable, each month identifying the top ten pages on the site. They post weather, time, and frequently changing inspirational quotes to show users that they update the page regularly.

"The whole purpose behind the site is that we want to make a difference," Boyum says. "Counseling is about helping. Counseling is about sharing. Counseling is about improving people's lives." To that end, he developed a resource that would not only educate its visitors but also invite them to the Center for face-to-face support. Ultimately, he says, "we want people to come to this place and visit with our staff as a way of further getting help."

Boyum gives much of the credit for the website's popularity to Everhart, who he says exemplifies the high caliber of students at UW-Eau Claire. "He's very bright and talented," says Boyum. "I trust and respect him not only as a programmer and web page designer but as a student." A junior majoring in Management Information Services, Everhart provides a perspective that often influences both the structure and content of the site.

Whenever he can, Boyum talks to other students as well. He hosts student focus groups, talks to R.A.s, and seeks feedback from his own clients--all to determine what works on the site, and what doesn't. It was students, for example, who advised him not to alphabetize the self-help links. According to Boyum, they told him, "A is for Alcohol. If you do things alphabetically, you're going to turn us off. We already get this information all over campus." While they feel the content on substance abuse is useful, students suggested that Boyum draw them in with compelling articles on other issues; he hopes those who need it will eventually find their way to the alcohol section.

Although the site provides email addresses for Center staff, Boyum emphasizes that counselors there are attentive to the privacy issues raised by communicating with clients online. "We don't do web-based counseling," he says. And while he initially worried that the Center might receive a flood of requests for help from outside UW-Eau Claire, he says those instances have remained "very, very rare." In such cases, he urges the correspondent to visit a counseling center in his or her area.

While admitting that he prefers one-to-one counseling, he says that the website reaches 900 people in the time it takes for him to meet with five people in his office. He marvels at that magnitude: "If you look at our compliments page, you'll see that people from all over the world are visiting our site, so we really have become a role model for other centers." He invites other centers to create hyperlinks to the Eau Claire page.

It's impossible to visit UW-Eau Claire's counseling website without recognizing the time and thought required to develop and maintain it. It's almost as impossible to chat with Richard Boyum without realizing his sincerity. His commitment to making a difference in people's lives is, by his own description, devotional. He calls the Counseling Center site an extension of the Wisconsin Idea, that the boundaries of the university are the boundaries of the state. "Now the Wisconsin Idea includes the entire planet," Boyum says.

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Further Reading

Carlson, Scott. Virtual Counseling. Chronicle of Higher Education. 15 November 2002, A35. Available online at http://chronicle.com/free/v49/i12/12a03501.htm.

Other UW Counseling Websites

John Macek, Executive Director of UW-Whitewater's University Health and Counseling Services was inspired by UW-Eau Claire's counseling website, calling it a "jewel sitting in our very backyard." He hopes to develop a hyperlink from the Whitewater counseling page soon. Below is a list of UW System counseling pages, including both Eau Claire's and Whitewater's websites. The list represents the wide variety of resources available to UW students, faculty, and staff.

UW-Eau Claire: Counseling Center
UW-Green Bay: Counseling and Health Center
UW-La Crosse: Counseling and Testing Center
UW-Madison: Counseling and Consultation Services
UW-Milwaukee: Counseling and Consultation Services
UW Oshkosh: Counseling Center
UW-Parkside: Student Health and Counseling Center
UW-Platteville: Counseling Services
UW-River Falls: Counseling Services
UW-Stevens Point: Counseling Center
UW-Stout: Counseling Center
UW-Superior: Student Health and Counseling Services
UW-Whitewater: Counseling Services

 



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