Mental health options for college students attending schools in other states can be a challenge

(WFSB) – College students are adjusting to being back on campus.

For Connecticut students working on their degrees at out of state schools, getting mental health help from their home-based therapists will be more difficult this year.

That’s because state licensing laws have reverted back to what they were pre-COVID.

Mental health professionals are concerned that progress made with their clients will be lost.

When Lizzie D’Ettore starts college in January, she’ll be a long way from home.

The aspiring marine biologist from Niantic is headed to college at Hawaii Pacific University.

Dealing with PTSD and depression, Lizzie is one of thousands of teens who attends therapy.

“I trust that person, I feel like I can talk to them,” said Lizzie.

When she heads to Hawaii, those sessions will end.

“It’s going to be a big change, especially not having the support of the people I know too since I’m so far away,” Lizzie said.

Due to licensing laws, students going to school out of state can’t regularly see therapists licensed in Connecticut.

The same goes for students who connect with therapists at school and then travel back to Connecticut for summers.

During the pandemic, those licensing restrictions were loosened to allow therapists to practice over state lines through telemedicine.

But those restrictions went back on the books in April, and Lizzie will have to find someone new in Hawaii if she wants to continue therapy.

“It’s hard opening up to somebody you don’t feel comfortable with,” Lizzie said.

“They have enough of a transition already,” said Alyssa Kolesar.

Alyssa owns the practice where Elizabeth’s therapist works.

She fears too many out-of-state students will face mental health struggles without the same options they had since the start of COVID-19.

“There isn’t accessibility anymore. So whereas people were able to find therapists maybe in other states when they did move or when they did go to college. The problem is, there aren’t therapists to be had,” said Kolesar, Coastal Connecticut Counseling Owner, licensed Marriage and Family Therapists.

There is a way for some providers to offer teletherapy across state lines.

PSYPACT is an agreement between states.

“It’s basically saying all these states agree that if you have this license that you are able to practice in that state,” said Kolesar.

Connecticut is poised to join the PSYPACT agreement on October 1.

It only applies to psychologists, not to the many licensed clinical social workers or marital and family therapists like Lizzie’s.

“And ultimately the goal would be able to have something for therapists to be able to practice across state lines,” said Kolesar.

Unlike Kolesar, Dr. Ralph Dodd is wary of how quickly license restrictions were loosened during COVID-19.

He’s the Regional Director of Collegiate Counseling for Hartford HealthCare.

“Part of the reverting back to the old rules or the way things used to be is to try to have a good understanding and making sure that everyone who’s practicing is doing it the right way,” said Dodd.

Dodd recommends setting up a three-way call between an old provider and a new therapist to share information.

He acknowledges it’s not always easy to make the switch.

“I actually had a case the other day where a student is trying to keep their therapist and they’re actually planning to drive back and forth about two and half hours,” said Dodd.

“I don’t know if it’s worth it to keep trying when I already have somebody I can talk to,” Lizzie said.

“We’re not supposed to abandon our clients,” said Kolesar. “Cutting them off in that way or asking them to drive you know, two hours away to go see their therapist, it’s just not helpful.”