With final exams just few weeks away and the Thanksgiving break coming up fast, it’s common for college students to feel stress – and for those who suffer from anxiety, this time of year can trigger a full meltdown.

UCF’s Counseling and Psychological Services offers an array of services to help students with anxiety, and this year the center has added another option for students on-the-go. Therapist Assisted Online offers students access to help 24/7, even during school breaks.

“It’s an online-based program,” said Christopher Hanes, director of clinical services at CAPS. “Students meet with a UCF counselor once a week via teleconferencing, but between that time they reflect, journal and complete exercises proven to help anxiety every day. They also have access to tools to help reduce their anxiety literally 24/7 right at their fingertips accessible via their smart phone, tablet or laptop computer.”

TAO is based on researched best practices and highly effective strategies, Hanes said. He spent a year reviewing and dissecting the program. UCF was one of nine beta sites that  piloted the program earlier this year. Now the program is in 23 universities across the nation including the University of California at San Diego and Texas A&M and schools in Canada.

“I think because students have to spend small periods of time every day, it’s available to them in a way they like to communicate and we’ve made it engaging, I think it all makes a huge difference,” said Sherry Benton, the program’s creator. She was formerly the director of the counseling center at the University of Florida, where she said she developed the program out of necessity.

Her team was seeing so many students, they just couldn’t keep up treating them even after hiring three new counselors, Benton said.

“So I started thinking, I have to figure out an alternative because we can’t keep students waiting,” she said. “A delay could mean the difference between completing a semester or not.”

So Benton did some research and found that universities in Europe were already offering therapy online for selected conditions. She decided to build a program from the ground up. A little more than a year later she retired from the university and launched TAO as a full-time business.

At UCF, counselors saw more than 3,900 students last year during more than 20,000 appointments. Most of those seeking help suffer from mild to moderate anxiety or depression, Hanes said.

This program is a good fit for many of those students struggling with mild to moderate anxiety he said. It promotes access to services on a student’s schedule and allows CAPS to see more students and to reach students with more complex cases more quickly.

“I like to say it gives students another option based on their on-the-go lifestyle,” Hanes said. “With Thanksgiving break – a time to go home and renegotiate roles of parent and child, exam time and the holidays – it can be very stressful. This program allows students to access some tools that will help them get through it and if they complete the program they are more likely to change their response to stress long-term.”

Tools include instruction on relaxation techniques, identifying triggers, and suggested techniques for responding to anxiety before there is a full crisis.

Students interested in the program go through a screening process to make sure TAO is a good fit for them. Some students may get more benefit from face-to-face counseling. If students are screened now and get into the program, they will have access to the online tools during the semester break.

“A certain amount of anxiety is good,” Hanes said. “It keeps us alive. But when it begins to interfere with your daily life, it may be time to seek help. This specific program and our counseling staff offers students the support and tools they need. We’re here to help.”