Cook Counseling Center announced Monday it gained accreditation for the first time since the mid-1990s.
Center officials consider the accreditation a significant step forward despite a recent history filled with controversy and a still-pending lawsuit.
The center was accredited by the International Association of Counseling Services, a non-profit group of collegiate counseling centers.
“It’s important because until you have someone neutral come in and say you’re doing a good job, you really don’t know if you’re reaching the highest levels of the profession,” said Chris Flynn, director of the center since 2006.
Flynn said Cook’s accreditation ended in the ’90s because of a failure to renew its accreditation, which stemmed from costs for the accreditation process.
“The state had been going through some difficult times and was looking for any way to save some money,” Flynn said in March.
According to the IACS website, accreditation involves a $700 initial evaluation fee and an annual fee of $850 to maintain the accreditation. There is also a field visit fee of $1,500.
The center had then planned to reapply for accreditation in spring 2007, but the April 16, 2007, campus shootings delayed the process until Dec. 8, 2008.
Flynn said this was so the center could deal with the more pressing problems the campus and the students were facing. The center also had its fair share of legal problems following the shootings.
The families of Erin Peterson and Julia Pryde, two victims of the shootings, filed identical civil suits against Virginia Tech and counseling center officials. The only current center employee named in the suit is Cathye Betzel, along with former center employee Sherry Lynch Conrad. Former center director Robert Miller is also being sued.
The only university officials being currently named in the suits are President Charles Steger and former executive vice president James Hyatt. Several others were originally named in the suits, but a December hearing determined they were protected by the state’s sovereign immunity.
A hearing scheduled for Nov. 22 will continue the case.
In April 2009, Flynn received word from IACS the center had passed the written portion of the accreditation, meaning it was in line for a field visit.
IACS members Cindy Cook and Tom Baez spent two full days at the center in April 2009 for the visit.
“They talked with everyone in the center and then met with a group of faculty and staff from across campus. They were impressed by the support we got from the administration and they were very appreciative that we increased the number of counselors on staff,” Flynn said.
Their field visit report summarized the center’s work, saying, “This is an excellent center which is providing a very good and highly regarded service to the campus and its students.”
In their field visit report, IACS found many offices on campus felt Cook has been more collaborative since the shootings. They also recognized the changes that have taken place at the center since 2007.
“The campus shootings at Tech on April 16, 2007, had widespread positive and negative effects on Cook Counseling,” the letter stated. “First, the center had to undergo extensive scrutiny which both took its toll on staff and expedited some needed changes. Secondly, they were given funding for additional staff, as they were understaffed before.”
Indeed, the center has hired seven more counselors since 2007, a move that may have played a significant role in securing its accreditation.