Mental health counselors from OUWB steal the show at social work summit
An image of Janae Kinn and Ashley Watters
Janae Kinn (left) and Ashley Watters, OUWB’s two medical student mental health counselors. They recently presented on the school's unique embedded counseling program.

Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine’s unique counseling program had attendees abuzz at a recent social work conference held at the University of Michigan.

The Alliance of University and College Counseling Center Social Work Training (AUCCCSWT) 6th Annual Summit was held June 11-12 in Ann Arbor.

The theme of the event was “Leading with Compassion and Empathy: Social Work Values to Embrace in the Ever-Shifting UCCC Environment.”

Among the presenters were Janae Kinn and Ashley Watters, OUWB’s two medical student mental health counselors. They presented “Juggling Two Worlds: Experiences as Embedded Counselors on a College Campus.”

“For a medical school, we have a very niche type of dedicated position,” said Watters.

“It was good to be in a room of people who understand the job, even if they aren’t doing the same exact thing that we’re doing.”

According to its website, the AUCCCSWT summit aimed to examine “the core values that connect us to each other like social justice, person in environment perspective, advocacy, dignity and worth of the person, collaboration, empowerment, and a responsibility to broader society.”

The OUWB counseling program seemed a natural fit.

The model has been in place since 2019, when Kinn began working as a counselor dedicated specifically to OUWB. (Watters joined as a second counselor in 2022.)

Officially under the auspices Student Affairs, Kinn and Watters also are supervised clinically by the director of the Oakland University Counseling Center.

The two counselors offer individual and group counseling services and participate in wellness programming. They also advise the student organization, Mental Health Advocates.

Counseling is available to OUWB students for all four years of medical school, even during clerkships. There aren’t any costs for the services, nor are there any limits on the number of sessions for each student. Further, Kinn and Watters are bound by the privacy protections afforded by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which means they can’t talk about their clients with others – including anyone else from Student Affairs.

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According to Kinn and Watters, they have caseloads of about 60 unique students per school year. That equates to a utilization rate of 20-25%, and more than 1,110 counseling sessions.

By comparison, research indicates that nationwide a much smaller percentage of students take advantage of counseling services provided by institutions.

And that’s despite efforts to increase awareness, reduce stigma, improve accessibility, and expand capacity to ensure students can access the support they need.

The OUWB counselors shared the successes they’ve achieved so far during the summit in Ann Arbor. They included strong student trust and relationships with staff and faculty, a decreased stigma around mental health services, success in changing what self-care in medical school looks like, and an increase in the overall mental health services provided.

They also identified challenges that generally centered on increased demand for their services.

Overall, Kinn and Watters said there was a lot of interest in the OUWB embedded counselor program — and it left them with positive feelings about what they do daily.

“People think our jobs are really cool,” said Watters. “It’s not very common.”

“It’s really validating to know that you work for a place that understands that this is a population that really needs these resources and provides them,” she added.

Kinn shared similar thoughts.

“To look at our jobs from a different viewpoint felt really refreshing,” she said. “I not only felt pride, but it allowed me to reflect on how much we are doing for students…we are making a difference.”  

If you are in a crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.

To schedule an appointment with Kinn or Watters, call the OU Counseling Center at 248-370-3465.

For more information, contact Andrew Dietderich, senior marketing specialist, OUWB, at [email protected].

To request an interview, visit the OUWB Communications & Marketing webpage.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.