Counseling Center developing new intervention approach for marijuana and drugs
By Madeline St. Amour
Asst. News Editor
Feb 3, 2015
STEPS 2.0 is a student health program currently in development at the Counseling Center at the University at Albany. It is aimed towards at-risk students with the goal of identifying bad habits students have related to drugs and finding ways for students to reduce their drug use.
The Principal Investigator on the research, Dr. Dolores Cimini, believes that the process would be very simple for students to use. A student would fill out a questionnaire online about his or her drug use and related experiences, and then meet with a psychologist at the Counseling Center. There, the student would receive personalized feedback from the psychologist, which they could also take home as a handout. The feedback would include things like how his or her consumption compares to the average student and what safer steps can be taken while consuming drugs. The student would also receive a follow-up survey every month after his or her visit to the Center.
“Going through these questions again and thinking and considering [his or her] use again has a little bit of a benefit too,” said Vivian Hwang, a Ph. D. student at UAlbany who manages the project.
One of the greatest benefits of this kind of intervention is how personalized the feedback is for each student, says Cimini. The results are tailored to the student’s responses, as well as the discussion with the psychologist. Another benefit is the ease and simplicity of the one-time appointment.
“We’re really trailblazers here because this is really the way the field is going,” said Cimini.
“This intervention is very brief, it doesn’t take much of students’ time, but yet they learn some very important things about themselves.”
The information given back to the students is also “student-centered and student-friendly,” said Cimini. It doesn’t support a “just say no” policy, but rather gives the students safety tips for if they continue to consume the substance, ideas for reducing consumption, and other information about what effects the substance can have.
All information taken at the Counseling Center is also completely confidential, so students will not be penalized for illegal alcohol or drug use.
STEPS 2.0 focuses mainly on marijuana and prescriptions drugs that are used for non-medical reasons. The top four prescription drugs focused on are stimulants, anxiety drugs, pain medications, and sleeping pills, Cimini said.
The project is currently in the research and development phase. Hwang said that while others have created similar interventions for alcohol or just one drug, none have really created an all-encompassing system.
“Depending on what [substances students] report . . . they can get information about all of that, so it’s going to be very tailored to the students,” said Hwang.
“We’re one of the first [Centers] in the United States to try this,” Cimini said.
The research process is essentially the same as how the evaluation system works for students looking for help. Students that volunteer and sign consent forms fill out a survey, have a meeting with a psychologist, and then fill out another survey a month later. The only difference is that their data is collected for research, although it is not attached to any names.
The Counseling Center created a similar service in 2006 called STEPS, which specifically deals with alcohol. The program has been listed in the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (NREPP) from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and has met the minimum requirements to ensure that it is an efficient strategy that works. The program has also won more than ten national awards, Cimini said.
The Counseling Center uses a “public health approach,” which means that it aims to help the student body from three angles. First, to support students that are already healthy through prevention and awareness campaigns, such as the Center’s “Social Norms” campaign. Second, by treating problems once a student has already developed one. And third, by hitting the middle ground, where the students are at risk of developing large problems. Programs such as STEPS and STEPS 2.0 target these students by teaching them ways to cut down on bad habits or be safer about them.
“We’re trying to get to students early who may have issues with alcohol and drugs before they develop problems,” said Cimini.
If a student is interested in participating in the research for the STEPS 2.0 program, he or she can email Vivian Hwang at firstname.lastname@example.org. All participants receive a Barnes & Noble gift card that can also be used at the school bookstore.