Dear Alice,

Does Columbia University provide any kind of free therapy for its students and/or employees? A friend of mine led me to believe Columbia does, though I have a hard time believing this.


Dear Suspicious,

The short answer is yes and no. Columbia Health on the Morningside campus has a Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) division, which offers short-term counseling services to all students, undergraduates and graduates, who have paid the Columbia Health Fee. All full-time students are automatically billed each semester on their student account for the Columbia Health fee, and as a result have access to all of the health services on campus (including primary and urgent care, counseling, disability services, health promotion programs, and sexual violence prevention and response programs). The counseling service may seem free to some (including your friend), because once students have paid the Columbia Health Fee, there are no additional charges to visit CPS (i.e. no co-pays, office visit fees, etc.).

Similarily, the CUMC campus has the Mental Health Service, a division of the Student Health Service. As part of the Student Health Service fee, students are entitled to ten Mental Health Service visits annually without charge. Once a student has completed ten sessions, s/he can use the Aetna insurance plan which will cover 40 additional visits during the academic year with a $20 co-pay per visit.

A professional staff of psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers is ready to discuss a wide variety of concerns about oneself or others. CPS and the Mental Health Service offers short-term psychological counseling, as well as emergency consultation, and referrals for long-term mental health care. Psychiatrists can also evaluate students and provide prescriptions for medication. At CPS, special counseling programs and groups are offered for survivors of sexual abuse, students who are HIV-positive, students with eating disorders, adult children of alcoholics, students with work blocks, and for a variety of other issues. Workshops and other special programs are advertised at the beginning of each semester in the Spectator and through Columbia Health website.

When long-term or specialized mental health care is recommended, after consultation or assessment, students can be referred to an appropriate resource outside of Columbia Health or the Student Health Service. In order to utilize the out-patient psychotherapy benefit in the Columbia Student Health Insurance Plan and at the Medical Center, a student must be seen and referred by CPS or the Mental Health Service to an approved provider. Without a referral for long-term counseling, students cannot be reimbursed for their mental health care expenses.


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