Written from an interview with Robert M. Keiser MBA, Executive Director, Southeastern College/Southeastern Institute and Srikanth Santhanam, Senior Vice President, META
Southeastern College and Southeastern Institute recently partnered with META, a mobile counseling tool designed to help their students gain easy access to mental health providers, while also supporting students’ busy lifestyles.
Southeastern Executive Director Robert M. Keiser said they chose the META teletherapy app because it is not only convenient for students, but it also gives them the freedom to choose a therapist who is a good fit for them. “We’re very excited about this,” he said, adding that while the teletherapy is for students, that faculty and staff also have access to it.
“Mental health illness is a serious concern affecting all people regardless of demographics,” Keiser said.
“Southeastern College and Southeastern Institute are always concerned about the well-being of our students, faculty and staff and believe that providing convenient and cost-effective access to mental health services is an important way to support our Southeastern family.”
META currently has sponsorship agreements with more than 52 campuses and online divisions for students at 16 schools across 124 campuses in various stages of contracting, according to Srikanth Santhanam, META’s senior vice president. On average, the company can complete a thorough implementation and launch META at a school in three weeks.
Keiser said META addresses a wide range of mental health concerns and also provides safe access to mental health resources. “It’s convenient because it’s an application that uses telemedicine. It’s private, it’s a secure connection and it’s also confidential.”
META is used in alignment with FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, and HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which sets standards around protecting the privacy and security of patients’ health information.
“This is a benefit for not only the student, but also for the institution,” Keiser said. “You’re dealing with private records, whether it’s educational or health-related, and students know that by going through this app… that their privacy … will be safeguarded.”
Keiser said META is a modern-age approach to addressing mental health concerns, and said the institution decided to sponsor the teletherapy app because Southeastern is committed to placing the needs of students first so they can help them achieve better futures. “Like many colleges, we have seen some of the challenges associated with mental health…”
The META app brings together a network of licensed mental health professionals such as counselors, therapists and psychologists, to deliver mental wellness assistance.
Students download the app, choose a provider, and receive counseling through the privacy and convenience of their Android or Apple smartphones via chat, video or voice calls.
Within the META app, users can filter providers by licensure and provider specializations like post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety or substance abuse, Santhanam said. Users can also filter providers to fit other characteristics, such as provider therapy style, provider gender, language or accepted insurance. For example, some therapists do not take insurance so users can use the app’s search filters to find therapists who will accept insurance if a user doesn’t want to pay out-of-pocket.
Keiser said Southeastern has adult students who are busy and juggling multiple responsibilities. “The convenience of using the app is really supportive of students’ lifestyles,” he said.
In the past, Southeastern tackled mental health issues in a variety of ways, but never truly through therapy, he said, adding that they’ve seen instances where mental health issues have impacted their stakeholders. “Instead of adding a staff member or a whole branch to our institution, we thought that META’s modern approach to telemedicine was the best for Southeastern,” Keiser said.
It’s important for postsecondary institutions to invest in mental wellness programs since the entities exist to provide students with resources to succeed, he said. “META is an initiative that is directly aligned with our institutional values, cultures and missions.”
All too often, Keiser said students are unaware of the resources available to them through their institutions.
“Many of our students are already on tight budgets and need all the financial support they can get to meet this critical need,” he said. Students, faculty or staff can pay their portion of the cost through their health insurance or by credit/debit cards. META also has providers who charge low session fees for students without medical insurance. Using the system is easy; users just sign up for the service under their Southeastern account.
“They download the application from the app store and fill out minimal information before using the app” Keiser said. Then, whenever a student wants to engage in teletherapy, they simply open META, add their payment and insurance information and pick a therapist who most aligns with their needs.
“For instance, in South Florida we have students who are bilingual, and they may prefer to speak to a therapist who speaks Spanish or Creole,” he said.
The initiative is in alignment with Southeastern’s mission, which is to help students perform academically and professionally, in order to achieve their eventual ambitions after they graduate, Keiser said.
“I don’t believe that our students, staff or faculty can really be their best every single day if they’re struggling through mental health issues,” he said, adding that he believes META helps students, staff and faculty handle challenges and become more productive.
META also provides benefits to the schools.
“It’s a huge benefit to us to support our students and our various stakeholders in living healthier lives,” he said. “It actually helps them get closer to achieving their academic and professional ambitions.”
The system is flexible, so it works with people’s varied schedules. “That’s a huge thing for adult students,” Keiser said. “They’re constantly juggling different responsibilities, such as children or work. It’s being able to just open your app to talk to someone when you have that need, as opposed to going to a physical facility.”
Many students, faculty or staff face a stigma about talking to a counselor, and lack of privacy is one of the main reasons people don’t get mental health counseling. In fact, according to a 2018 report from the American College Health Association, college students are struggling more with stress, anxiety and depression than they ever have before. The study showed that 60% have experienced “overwhelming anxiety” in the past 12 months.
“Although most people are accepting and supportive, there’s still a portion of society who say, ‘back in my day I had to suck it up,’” Keiser said. “There are certain issues like ADHD that aren’t taken seriously, and they are very serious. For our students, faculty and staff, these are issues that they struggle with on a daily basis.”
PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is also a serious issue, particularly for veterans back in school. “We don’t have a huge proportion of veterans, but PTSD is something that is absolutely true. It impacts a lot of students and … is definitely an impediment for them to be successful in the classroom,” Keiser said.
In fact, Southeastern makes sure that veteran students don’t have their backs facing the door, even during interviews.
“Veterans are trained not to sit with their back to the door because of the possibility of an ambush,” he said. “They will be physically uncomfortable in an interview room if you put them that way. Those are things you do with all veterans, regardless of PTSD. Their training and what they experienced impacts them. It’s impossible that it doesn’t.”
“We realize not all students need counseling, but everyone can benefit from META’s Buzz. Buzz is a free, in-app feature with articles and videos on various topics that are relevant to their lives, such as de-stressing before finals, how to handle relationships, group dynamics, mindfulness training etc.” said Keiser.
Santhanam said META has a variety of mental health counselors to support the various needs of users. This includes independently licensed professional counselors, family therapists, social workers and psychologists.
Before providers can register on META, the company’s provider operations specialist validates provider credentials, and conducts due-diligence on any disciplinary measures a provider might have faced. META also trains providers, checks their systems, connectivity, and audio and video quality prior to them using the platform.
“We have around 200 providers who have been approved to practice on META’s network and more are pending approval,” Santhanam said. META currently covers 30 states and the company is onboarding providers in the remaining states, driven by customer demand.
META is a digital storefront to a provider’s current practice. Therapists on META can make a diagnosis in line with what is permitted by their licensure.
META isn’t an emergency service that is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “Our users will need to call 911 or National Suicide Hotline in case of emergencies,” Santhanam said. However, the META platform indicates when a provider is online and available, which is usually between 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and weekends. “But if a user has already established a connection with a provider, he or she can get counseling at any time of day or night, as agreed upon mutually,” he said.
In addition, META’s users can search for providers 24 hours a day and send chat messages if the provider is offline. Providers who are not online will be notified there is a message waiting for them via email and text message.
Keiser said Southeastern will be doing ongoing campaigns to make students aware of META services, and also to help them realize their privacy will be protected if they choose to get help. “META is really great in that they provide the member institutions with marketing material,” he said, noting that the information is posted on campus. During new student orientation, Southeastern also presents information on META as part of its wellness program.
“It’s a stigma and stigmas are only overcome through awareness and education,” Keiser said. “We’re going to consistently try to educate our students throughout the process … and provide it as part of a package of resources for our students.”
That will include addressing it in their academics, particularly with their allied health programs, as well as through the Career Services department.
Partnering with META was really a no-brainer, Keiser said.
Studies show that online counseling not only provides a comfortable setting for care, but that this type of counseling may also improve outcomes, according to the META website. In addition, numerous articles have been published highlighting the effectiveness of using phone and/or video conferencing for mental health counseling.
META also has a support system for users that encounter issues while using the app. The staff can be reached by phone from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. CST Monday through Friday.
ROBERT KEISER, raised in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has lived in Washington, D.C. and Barcelona, Spain but now resides full-time in Delray Beach, Florida. Robert holds a Bachelor of Science in International Affairs and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Higher Education Leadership from Capella University.
Keiser currently serves as the Executive Director of Southeastern College and Southeastern Institute and was previously the Campus President of Southeastern College’s West Palm Beach campus. He previously worked at Keiser University’s Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and Port St. Lucie campus. During his experience with Keiser and Southeastern, Keiser has worked in admissions, financial aid, academics, and governmental relations. Prior to his time in Higher Education, he worked for U.B.S Financial Services in wealth management and Skanska USA in business development. He served as an appointee to Florida Governor Charlie Crist’s Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness. In this capacity, he contributed to a state action plan to combat childhood obesity and testified before U.S. Congress on behalf of the FIT Kids Act; an act mandating one hour of physical education in America’s public schools.
Contact Information: Robert M. Keiser, MBA // Executive Director // Southeastern College/Southeastern Institute // 954-261-5135 // firstname.lastname@example.org // www.sec.edu; http://www.southeasterninstitute.edu