Tag Archives: Counselor Educators Audience

Counselor Educators Audience

Professional trip to India opens eyes, fills hearts

By Bethany Bray June 20, 2016

Counselors around the world have more in common than you might think.

Angela Coker, an associate professor at the University of Missouri – St. Louis (UMSL), found herself talking about some very familiar issues with international colleagues recently at a conference in Bangalore, India. Challenges that American counselors face – workload, pay rate and questions of counselor identity – are the same for colleagues around the world.

“In interacting with many of the counselors I met at the conference, [I found that] the issue of professional identity of counselors is a worldwide issue. I met a counselor from the U.K. who talked about how most people don’t know what a counselor is, or what we do,” says Coker, a licensed professional counselor (LPC). “It really just hit home again that most people don’t know … We have a lot of work to do, in terms of educating people who we are.”

Coker and Sachin Jain, an LPC and associate director of Counselors Without Borders, led a group of six masters-level graduate students from UMSL and George Mason University to India in January. The group attended and presented at the International Counselling, Psychotherapy and Wellness Conference at Christ University in Bangalore.

Many of the students who went on the 10-day trip said the experience spurred both personal and professional growth; for one student, it also allowed her to overcome past trauma she associated with Indian culture (see sidebar, below).

The conference, jointly organized by Christ University and the University of Toronto, was a gathering of university educators and professionals from around the world. While on the Christ University campus, the group was able to interact and share meals with Indian counseling students.

George Mason student Alexander Hilert remembers this experience as a highlight of the trip.

“I found a great deal of similarity between myself and the (Indian) students, sharing their motivations and aspirations for making a difference and helping others,” says Hilert.

Jain has been leading groups of counselor educators and students on professional work/study trips to his native India for years, including a meeting with the Dalai Lama in 2013. This time, the trek was a chance for students to present at an academic conference, as well as be exposed to culture and perspectives they might be missing in an American graduate program, he says. In India, there is a shortage of mental and physical healthcare, while the needs are great – due to stressors such as poverty, class struggles, rampant corruption and high rates of suicide, says Jain.

“Students are the future leaders for the field. But their [American] training explicitly does not identify the most vulnerable populations living in developing countries, [which] severely limits advocacy and social justice efforts,” says Jain. “My hope is that some of these students return back to India or other developing countries to serve.”

Coker agreed, saying the trip was a chance to “expose some of our students to international thinking.”

“The whole purpose of this trip was international immersion and to increase multicultural consciousness,” Coker says. “A person can get a whole PhD (in the U.S.) without reading a text by anyone who isn’t an American, which I think is crazy.”

 

 

In their own words

Here are some thoughts from the counseling graduate students who traveled to India this winter:

 

“Deciding to make the trip to India was a very challenging decision for me to make personally. Not just because of logistics or the fact I had never been out of the country before but because I had a traumatic experience when I was 14 years old when a man who was from India sexually assaulted me. In court he used his cultural background as a defense. At a young age I became fearful of Indian culture, believing his words that his actions were considered normal in his country. From that point forward I generalized and shied away from the culture; India was one country I told myself I would never visit in my lifetime.

When I first learned about the opportunity to travel to India I knew it was a wonderful opportunity, but it was just something I told myself I could not do. Over the next several months I did a lot of self-reflection. When the day came that I got the email announcing the trip I decided in that moment, YES, I was going. It was the perfect time for me in my personal journey towards healing and growth and I just knew it was something I had to do and I would forever regret passing on this opportunity. I sought out supervision from my supervisors and professors; they were all very encouraging and gave me some tools and coping skills to help me on my journey.

One moment in particular was monumental for my personal growth. There was a cultural (dance) performance I was able to witness and I was in complete awe as the group started to perform. It was breathtakingly beautiful and I found myself tearing up. This was a culture I feared for so long, a culture I shied away from, and in that moment I felt genuine appreciation and admiration as I watched this performance and I felt myself take a huge step towards my recovery.

Being immersed into a culture is completely different than reading about it in a textbook or watching a movie. Being able to experience the sights, sounds, tastes and feel of a culture brings my understanding of cultural awareness to a completely different level. By personally overcoming my fears and biases held from a traumatic experience in my youth and by witnessing firsthand the struggles of poverty, racism and cultural norms I know I will be better equipped personally and professionally as a multicultural and social justice [focused] counselor.”

— Eliina Belenkiy, George Mason University

 

“The highlight of the trip for me was attending class and meeting the counseling graduate students at Christ University. This gave me the opportunity [to] see how counseling theory was taught there. For example, mindfulness-based therapy was being taught from a broader cultural and historical perspective. We discussed parallels between our training and perspectives as counselors (there was a great deal of overlap) and learned about the challenges counselors face in promoting the mental health profession in India. I found a great deal of similarity between myself and the students, sharing their motivations and aspirations for making a difference and helping others.

Something critical I learned about myself was how I react to being in an unfamiliar environment culturally. Thankfully I was supported by Dr. Sachin Jain and the students and faculty at Christ. But I think it will help me moving forward, having more empathy for clients navigating culturally unfamiliar environments. I also realize the difference race, gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexuality and socioeconomic status play in terms of this experience and the treatment you receive. I would say I’m learning to keep these factors in mind in how I relate to others and the stand I take for social justice.

I think my struggle and ‘aha moment’ was learning to be more present and open-minded. In my mind this is what makes cross-cultural dialogue possible and where the learning occurs.”

— Alexander Hilert, George Mason University

(Left to right) Tosha Pearson-Royston, Eliina Belenkiy, Dr. Angela Coker, Dr. Sachin Jain, Ngozi Williams, Deborah McGhee, Alex Hilert and Meaghan Lakes pictured at the Mysuru Palace in Southern India.

(Left to right) Tosha Pearson-Royston, Eliina Belenkiy, Dr. Angela Coker, Dr. Sachin Jain, Ngozi Williams, Deborah McGhee, Alex Hilert and Meaghan Lakes pictured at the Mysuru Palace in Southern India.

“My trip to India was nothing short of miraculous. I met so many wonderful people during my visit. I was first struck by the noise, dirt, trash and amount of people on the streets at any given time. However, I became so entranced by [the] life I saw on a daily basis. The people were so colorful, energetic and full of life. I was shocked to notice how prevalent colorism was in the country. I noticed most, if not all of the skincare products had bleaching cream, and I felt sad. I felt sad because I began making direct parallels between the people of India and Black/African-Americans and how colorism has affected us. I became very close with a young Indian woman; she explained it this way: ‘families want their daughters to marry men of European decent to have fairer children and grandchildren.’ I’m so thankful for this opportunity, and have used it to help me grow while working with international people during my internship. When working with [clients] I will be aware of similarities that different cultures share and use what I have learned to be the best professional counselor I can be. My [Indian] friend and I have kept in touch since my return to the U.S., and our friendship is growing. I’ve been invited to her wedding and we speak weekly. I wouldn’t trade my time in India for the world, and I can’t wait to return!”

— Tosha Pearson, UMSL

 

“While I had no clear or definite expectations for our trip to India, admittedly, some of my experiences surprised me. My most significant personal reflection is the feeling of Otherness I had while there. That is to say, I felt a different type of ‘other’ than I feel when I am at home in the U.S. As an African-American woman, I am very experienced with being a minority or being viewed as atypical to my surroundings, however, my India experience gave it a different flavor. Not only was I, and a few of my peers, atypical, we broached on the verge of being novelty. Public response to our presence varied from discreet stares and pointing to requests for pictures and being followed by groups of schoolchildren on a field trip. While it did not feel rude, it definitely felt strange, as if I were suddenly under the scrutiny of standards I did not know or understand. As a result, I had a sense of vulnerability throughout my trip, though not feeling unsafe, just uncertainty about where I stood in the grand scheme.

Understanding social justice, multiculturalism and the multiple forms of oppression is essential for every counselor and counseling student because these issues are relevant all over the world. Bangalore, as one of the fastest growing cities in India, must handle issues with pollution, construction and other logistical and socioeconomic problems. For example, the city had some of the busiest and congested traffic I had ever witnessed, but I did not observe many pedestrian crosswalks, despite seeing numerous construction projects in progress. How do these things affect the disabled? The ill? The elderly? As counselors, we must be aware of the wants, needs and obstacles of the minority as well as the majority.

Another area of interest that I observed in India was the standards of beauty promoted by the media. My first observation was that the individuals featured did not match [or] reflect the features of general populace. While somewhat expected, the extent of these differences were sometimes surprising with some models even appearing to have significant European heritage vs. Indian/Asian heritage. Most of the ad models had light eyes, narrow noses and lighter or olive tone skin, while most of the residents in the city did not. Furthermore, many beauty products were promoted as a means of obtaining these features. All throughout the city, we saw billboards for plastic surgery, cosmetic procedures and products, including numerous ads for skin whitening cream. As counselors, we should ask the following questions: How do standards like these affect a culture? How can we understand –isms (such as racism, colorism, sexism, etc.) in a different cultural context than our own?”

— Meaghan Lakes, UMSL

 

 

 

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Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at bbray@counseling.org

 

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The graduate school decision: Four diverse student voices

By Essence Fiddemon, Nayo Tabron, Thomas Latson and Kimberly Cabral April 29, 2016

Choosing the right graduate school for counseling can be both a challenging and exhilarating experience. Applicants have many motivators to weigh when making this decision and often have Group of Graduatesmany choices concerning which school and program will best fit their needs. This article shares the stories of four students who recently chose to enter a master’s program in clinical mental health counseling. Additionally, each student provides tips for other individuals who are contemplating the decision to enter a graduate program in the mental health field.

 

Essence

Before entering graduate school, I found myself caught in a dilemma. I had just finished my bachelor’s in June 2015, and here I was in August 2015 not making enough money with a bachelor’s degree to independently support two children.

I always wanted to complete graduate school, but I was nervous and hesitant about the debt that it might cause. After much consideration, I decided to enter graduate school and view the debt in a different light. Either I was going to put myself in debt by struggling to care for my children, or I could put myself in debt because I invested in my education to get to a better situation financially.

I set my fears aside and began to research schools that interested me. I knew that in my future career, I wanted to have the knowledge, skills and training to counsel all individuals, not just children. I decided to complete a master’s in clinical mental health counseling because I wanted to counsel children, adolescents and adults with developmental trauma.

When choosing a graduate school and field, I knew that I had to choose a field that I liked because it would be hard to invest myself in a school or field that I did not care for. As my graduate school experience began, I felt nervous and anxious. I had to remind myself that nothing comes easy and that the rewards would be worth it in the end. I noticed the further I got into the program, the less scary the experience became. I was more scared of the title “master’s degree” than anything else. The moral of this story is to overcome fear, because fear kills so many dreams and aspirations.

Currently I am a full-time worker with two small children. The support system I have is amazing. Graduate school became more stressful toward the end of my first term, but it was still manageable. In the future, I hope to have my own practice, and I would like to be involved in consulting. I would like to counsel adults with developmental issues and children who have experienced sexual trauma and physical abuse.

Graduate school will challenge you and reward you. In graduate school, you will learn how to master your writing and time management skills. My first tip to readers is to stay totally invested in your education despite your doubts. My second tip as you struggle through graduate school is to remember that to whom much is given, much is required.

 

Nayo

My first encounter with the counseling world happened when I was 8. My parents took me to see a counselor so that I could work through my confusion about their divorce, among other things. At 8, I was far more aware of the world than most, and I really didn’t care to spend my time in a counselor’s office once a week, especially because I felt belittled by my counselor. He spoke to me like an unaware child who couldn’t comprehend my emotions. The anger I felt toward my counselor turned into a sympathetic compassion for others like me — for others who felt like they weren’t being heard.

I turned this compassion into a career path and have aimed to change the system and those who work in it ever since. In my path, I have encountered terrible testimonials that made me weep for those who turned to the mental health and substance abuse care systems. They expressed to me that they too felt belittled. This has driven my passion even further and motivated me to continue my education beyond my undergraduate degree.

Deciding whether I wanted to go to graduate school was a long process. I had to consider if school was necessary to achieve the goals I wished to accomplish. I had to first make sure that the school I chose had an accredited degree program that would prepare me with the knowledge I need to pursue my goals. Finding a school that was CACREP accredited but also helps students obtain licensure was very important.

Currently I am pursuing my degree in clinical mental health counseling. I wanted a school that would build not only my fundamental knowledge but my professional knowledge as well. Not only is the school providing me with the basic knowledge I need to be a counselor, but it also provides me with opportunities to be experienced in the counseling field, which is a bonus. Having proper knowledge about the legalities of my career choice is very important in my pursuit to change the current systems.

I hope to open up more doors for people not only to get the help they need, but also to feel comfortable enough to do so. My future goals are to motivate counselors to take the time to listen to their clients and figure out what their problems are before diagnosing them for life.

Since being in graduate school, I have learned two things that I believe all those in pursuit of higher education should know. My first tip for those considering or starting the graduate program is to always use your resources. Making connections with the faculty around you and using the educational resources provided on campus are good ways for you to excel academically and to grow your network. Talking to people who have already achieved the professional or educational goals you are pursuing is a great way to learn the customs of pursuing professional and educational goals.

The second tip all potential graduate students should know is to develop time management skills. Depending on your school choice, the pace of the school may be more or less than you are accustomed to. This can cause you to become either overwhelmed or stagnant, either of which can have large effects on your grades. It’s important to schedule time to complete and comprehend your assignments while also providing yourself with downtime to prevent burning out.

So, the next time you consider whether graduate school is worth the effort, it is. Taking the time to advance yourself in life, in any facet, can open doors far beyond what you might imagine.

 

Thomas

I was led to counseling in high school after taking an intro to psychology course. Learning about the mind and the way it works piqued my interest because I was coming to accept the fact that I was gay.

Children are very conscious, and as a child I came to the understanding rather quickly that being gay was not acceptable in society. I discovered that I was considered mentally ill until 1987, when the decision was made to remove homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. I felt like a normal, conscious person, but society told me that my thoughts were not normal or conscious. I knew that something was wrong with this idea. When I made it to a bachelor’s program in psychology, I realized that I was not alone, and I wanted to help others like myself.

After graduating with my bachelor’s degree in psychology, I felt that I was equipped with the foundation I needed to start my journey, but I wasn’t qualified to provide help in the context I desired. I quickly realized that I would not be able to fully fulfill my purpose without an advanced degree. My reason for choosing a master’s in the clinical mental health counseling program was because I enjoyed the idea of sitting down and helping people work through their problems as a clinician, as opposed to the assessment and testing angle that a psychology master’s would provide.

I have always been ambitious, and the idea of continuing my education has always been a driving force in my life. I relocated from Florida to Georgia in 2009 for a job opportunity at a residential treatment facility, and I decided to continue my education. Of course, life doesn’t go exactly as we plan it out, and establishing a life for myself via full-time employment prevented me from starting school right away. But I knew the stars would align when it was my time.

It was a difficult decision because I had to continue working full time and needed flexibility. I was determined to make it work, and I was accepted into graduate school for my master’s in clinical mental health counseling in October 2015.

Currently, as a student in my first term, I am surprised at how much I am analyzing myself while learning the material. I realized that counselors must explore their own lives and personal experiences to effectively help others understand their experiences. Realizing things about myself and how I fit into the spectrum of life gave me a sense of purpose and opened my eyes to the importance of helping others realize their purpose. The curriculum in my Foundations of Mental Health Counseling course definitely helped me solidify and understand my professional identity and equipped me with a wealth of knowledge about myself.

My future now gives me a sense of success and fulfillment. I’m looking forward to studying counseling theories because my goals involve implementing strength-based modalities to help gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning at-risk youth achieve success.

My tips for those considering or starting a graduate program are to be ready to face yourself and any issues in your personal life, such as your sexuality, that may be barriers to your own success. Students should use the experience as a sense of self-therapy in an attempt to prepare to help others. Also, to ensure success, students should become comfortable with writing. I have always been a writer, and I love to express myself through words. With the help of the available resources for writing in graduate school, students should graduate as better writers than they were when they started.

 

Kimberly

My interest in the world of counseling embarked when I decided to leave a life and career in the music industry that was full of glitz and glamour. However, I strongly believed that I was choosing a path that felt much more rewarding. A path filled with light. A path that has purpose and endless possibilities to make a difference in the lives of other individuals who are in need of some guidance and encouragement.

My decision to enroll in the clinical mental health counseling program derived from the passion I have to help at-risk youth gain skills to overcome their struggles and obstacles. This passion came from the struggles I personally faced as an at-risk child. Fortunately, I was lucky to have two individuals who helped me learn the skills I needed to be able to succeed in life, and I was inspired to do the same for other at-risk youth.

My decision to enroll in the clinical mental health counseling program came close to three years after I had received my bachelor’s degree in psychology. My passion to succeed in life and help those individuals who need that extra push or guidance was far stronger than the doubt and obstacles I had about enrolling in graduate school. Additionally, I realized that with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, I was limited from being able to achieve my future goals. Furthering my education became almost impossible to ignore.

After doing extensive research on graduate schools, I came across one school that really stood out to me. The flexibility of the program’s schedule, the scholarly faculty and the fact that the program was CACREP accredited was very influential in my decision.

My current experience in my first class has come to an end and has proved to be very informative and motivational. This class is called Foundations of Mental Health Counseling and truly embodies the foundation of everything the clinical mental health counseling program consists of. In all honesty, I was extremely nervous when I first started this class because I had no idea what to expect. I also had reservations about how it was going to affect my personal and work life. Fortunately, now that I am at the end of the course, I can say that this class has helped calm my nerves and given me some insight on what to expect in future classes and in the counseling field in general.

My future goals consist of running my own practice; playing a major role in implementing a program inside school systems to either replace suspension or work hand in hand with suspension; and starting a nonprofit organization that empowers at-risk youth and troubled families while positively influencing school systems and communities worldwide. To some, it may seem as if I am biting off more than I can chew. However, in my eyes, if you truly want something in life, it is up to you and only you to make that dream turn into a reality.

My tips for those considering or starting a graduate program are to make sure you engage in self-care and to study smarter, not harder. Engaging in self-care can help you avoid burnout and keep a healthy balance between work, life and school. Some examples of self-care are working out, meditating and practicing mindfulness.

Learning how to study smarter and not harder is also very important to your success. Staying organized, using good time management, taking good notes and reviewing them consistently are all ways that you can study smarter and not harder. In the end, remembering why you entered the graduate program should be your biggest motivator.

 

Conclusion

The backgrounds, personal stories and inspirations behind counseling students’ decisions to attend graduate school are unique to each individual. Whether those experiences are as a mother, a former patient, someone accepting his sexual identity or just someone with natural talent, we all share a passion to learn about what it takes to help bring about the best in all of us.

Counseling students share a set of values that all people in helping careers possess, including empathy, passion and a nature of selflessness that ensures we are helping our clients reach their full potential. Future counseling students should know that this career is about more than personal gain or financial stability; it is about changing the world one client at a time.

 

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The authors of this article were students in a Foundations of Clinical Mental Health Counseling course at Argosy University, Atlanta, taught by associate professor Allison L. Spargo. Tanisha Johnson, a doctoral student, served as a teaching assistant. Both Spargo and Johnson are members of the American Counseling Association.

 

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

Validating the quarter-life crisis

By Lynne Shallcross April 22, 2016

More than a decade ago in the song “Why Georgia,” musician John Mayer put words to a phenomenon that many 20-somethings sense all too well.

“I rent a room and I fill the spaces with/ Wood in places to make it feel like home/ But all I feel’s alone/ It might be a quarter-life crisis/ Or just the stirring in my soul/ Either way I wonder sometimes/ About the outcome/ Of a still verdictless life/ Am I living it right?”

Despite its inclusion in a hit pop song, the quarter-life crisis isn’t always taken seriously by society at large. “Nobody questions the midlife crisis,” points out Cyrus Williams, an associate professor in the Branding-Images_quarter-lifeSchool of Psychology and Counseling at Regent University, but the same isn’t always true of the quarter-life crisis, which Williams defines as a period of significant life and career transitions for young adults between the ages of roughly 22 and 30.

“As a culture, we all think that age 25 is the best stage of your life — these folks are happy, they’re doing everything they want and it’s a great time of life,” says Williams, an American Counseling Association member who has been studying and speaking about the quarter-life crisis for more than five years.

In the counseling session, however, the quarter-life crisis — a developmental time period of potentially high anxiety — needs to be given the same level of respect and attention as the midlife crisis rather than being dismissed out of hand, Williams says. “We really need to acknowledge and not minimize this time period,” he emphasizes.

Decisions, decisions, decisions

In their early 20s, many young adults are graduating from college and find themselves faced with a deluge of life transitions, Williams explains. There are choices and changes swirling around them in almost every major area of life.

They are deciding where to live, whether moving to their own apartment (or a shared living space) in a new city or back into their parents’ home. They want to pursue a career but sometimes find themselves stuck in entry-level jobs that don’t pay their bills or student loans. They wonder whether they should already be in a committed relationship headed toward marriage and a family. They question whether and how they will develop new friendships while hanging on to old ones from their high school or college days.

All of those issues can lead to feelings of anxiety, fear, instability and an existential crisis of “Who am I?” Williams says. “There are too many choices, too many decisions to make, and it’s scary,” he says.

This time in life can also dredge up self-doubt, says Melissa Nelson, a doctoral candidate in counselor education and supervision at Regent University who has been researching the quarter-life crisis with Williams. For example, some young adults might see that a peer has landed a successful job and become financially stable and start wondering why they haven’t been able to follow the same timetable. This can make young adults question themselves, their decisions and their abilities, says Nelson, a member of ACA. “Did I major in the right thing? Is there something wrong with me?”

It isn’t uncommon for clients in their 20s to present in the counseling session with feelings of depression and anxiety, says Katherine Hermann, an assistant professor in the Department of Counselor Education at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. The idea of leaving a close-knit community, whether the town where someone grew up or the circle of friends an individual developed at college, can be isolating, says Hermann, who has presented on transitions in adulthood. The search for a romantic partner can also feel isolating and provoke anxiety, she points out.

Young adults in this stage may also feel a sense of betrayal, Williams says. Many of these individuals have grown up being told by parents, teachers and others that if they follow the rules and check all the boxes they’re instructed to, life will work out as it is supposed to. When things don’t fall into place that seamlessly, Williams says, these young adults feel lied to.

In such cases, Williams says, it can be helpful if counselors talk through those feelings of betrayal with clients, allowing them to express why things feel unfair and then working together to move forward past those feelings.

All of the anxious feelings that are normally experienced at this time of life can be exacerbated by social media, Williams adds. For instance, on Facebook and Instagram, people tend to post messages and photos documenting only their best experiences, which doesn’t translate to a realistic account of life. “That is one of the things that other generations didn’t have to deal with,” Williams says. “They [didn’t] have to have this in their face every day of ‘Wow, my friend is having a great life and I’m not.’”

Nelson agrees. It is easy for people in this stage of life to get caught up in comparing themselves to peers who post photos or messages related to career success, romantic adventures or starting a family. “What does that mean for an individual who doesn’t have those things yet?” Nelson asks.

One key is for counselors to talk with these clients about how social media rarely shows the day-to-day reality of people’s lives, Williams says. That simple action can help young adults begin to put things in the proper perspective, he adds.

Keep your ‘therapeutic antennae up’

With all those choices and transitions hurtling toward young adults in rapid succession, how can counselors help most? “I wish there was a magic answer,” says Hermann, a member of ACA. Short of that, developing a strong therapeutic relationship is perhaps most important, she says, along with gathering and attempting to understand the perspective of the client as much as possible.

“I think having your therapeutic antennae up is one of the most important things,” says Hermann, who adds that the client’s presenting problem isn’t always the real problem. Get to know these clients and work on the issues they present with, she says, but also be open and attentive to exploring other issues of which they may not even be aware.

Counselors should also know that these clients aren’t afraid to walk through your door, Williams says. “This generation is not like generations in the past,” he explains. “There’s not a stigma involved in mental health issues [with them]. They’ll come in to your office and they’re like, ‘Listen, I’m stressed out, I’m anxious. I need some help.’”

In return, Williams says that he stands ready to help these clients identify what they are experiencing. He specifically uses the term quarter-life crisis with young adult clients because he says it is empowering for them to hear a phrase that defines their experience. “It’s liberating for them,” Williams says. “They’re like, ‘Holy crap. OK. I get it. This is what I’m going through right now.’ So normalizing this is very important.”

Nelson agrees, adding that 20-somethings are reading magazine articles and self-help books on this topic as a way of finding support and normalizing their experience. “If we as counselors and therapists don’t do the same in normalizing this and recognizing this,” Nelson says, “then we’re not providing the comprehensive services that we need [to].”

Even if career counseling is not a counselor’s specialty, being well-versed in career counseling topics is imperative when working with these clients, Nelson says, because career issues are intricately tied to many other areas of life, from identity to finances to relationships. For example, Nelson says, paying for a house or paying for child care is tied to family and partner relationships, but it is also dependent on career decisions. That means that even if a counselor doesn’t specialize in career or academic counseling, it is critical to have a basic understanding of those areas of counseling, she says.

On the flip side, Nelson says, career counselors might have young adult clients come in for help writing résumés, only to discover that their parents are pressuring them to create the “perfect” résumé in order to find the “perfect” job. Or perhaps a counselor working with a couple in premarital counseling might find that one member of the couple is struggling with career and financial worries. Nelson suggests that counselors try to look holistically at everything going on in these clients’ lives.

Williams points out that, of course, not every 20-something is going to experience a full-blown “crisis.” But the potential is there for these various life transitions to lead to crisis if young adults don’t have the coping skills and supports in place to weather changes in a healthy way, he says.

Counselors would be wise to do assessments with these clients at the outset of counseling, Williams says, especially to help determine whether they might be experiencing clinical depression or anxiety. Then, he says, counselors should hear these clients out and try to understand where they’re coming from.

Williams often explores existential questions such as “Who am I?” and “What do I want to do with my life?” with clients in this age group. He also reminds these clients that the answer to what they want to do with their lives doesn’t necessarily have to be related to their jobs; a job can pay the bills without necessarily “satisfying” or defining every aspect of the person. Williams prefers a holistic perspective, asking clients to think about what things in life make them happy, bring them meaning and help them make sense of the world.

No one right approach

When working with clients on quarter-life crisis issues, Williams suggests that practitioners remember to keep the counseling brief. Although these clients tend to be more willing than generations past to seek out counseling, they also generally want a faster route to a solution, not years of sessions, he observes.

“They come to counseling, but they don’t stay in counseling,” Williams says. Brief, solution-focused and existential approaches are often the best alternatives with these clients, he says. At the same time, many young adult clients aren’t afraid of doing work toward arriving at the solution, he adds, so counselors shouldn’t hesitate to suggest books for them to read, questions for them to ponder or other homework for them to do between sessions.

When deciding which interventions to use with these clients, Nelson suggests that counselors familiarize themselves with the literature on evidence-based practices related to life transitions, such as the school-to-work transition or the transition of becoming a family. Because the quarter-life crisis is a newer area of study that hasn’t yet been extensively researched, Nelson says it is hard to pronounce whether one counseling approach would be more effective than another. She believes almost any evidence-based approach can be effective with these clients, although she tends to lean toward existential-based approaches.

Williams came up with an intervention that he calls the “NEEDS” approach. The “N” stands for normalize, which all three counselors interviewed for this article highly recommend trying to do with clients confronting a quarter-life crisis.

The first “E” stands for empower. Williams says counselors can do this by arming these clients with anything from books to YouTube videos that will help them feel less alone and more confident that what they are experiencing is real.

The second “E” stands for taking an existentially focused approach. Williams says this involves helping clients explore who they are, what their calling is and the “why” behind it. For example, if young adult clients are focused on landing a particular job or moving out of their parents’ house, Williams will ask them to examine the “why” behind those desires.

The “D” stands for a developmental approach, in which Williams encourages clients to explore the “long continuum” of their lives, and also the decision-making skills that are required at this time in life. The decisions that 20-somethings make can have consequences that extend into their later years, he points out. For example, some young adults make the decision to run up their credit card debt so they can rush to move out of their parents’ home, while others decide to get married and have children before they are truly ready.

The “S” stands for screening and assessment, which Williams says is a must in determining whether clients are experiencing a normal transition or if their experience has crossed over into crisis mode.

Prevention where possible

Although counselors must be prepared to help 20-somethings who already find themselves in the midst of a quarter-life crisis, Nelson says practitioners should be thinking with a preventive mindset whenever possible. For example, she says, counselors who work with college students can help those students better prepare for what lies ahead by engaging them in exercises to build their self-esteem and raising their awareness of the challenging decisions and transitions that might pop up in the near future.

University counseling centers might be able to offer graduating students continued career counseling services until they land jobs, Nelson says. If such services aren’t feasible, she suggests that college counselors ensure that their clients who are graduating leave the school equipped with referral sources. She encourages college counselors to add website resources for recent graduates “who are feeling the heat of the quarter-life crisis.”

Nelson says counselors must do what they can to arm graduating students with the tools they need before they actually need them. “Getting the information out there and the resources out there before it becomes a problem is really important,” she says.

In preparing to work with clients on issues related to the quarter-life crisis, Nelson says it is crucial for counselors to be aware of changing cultural dynamics. For example, she says, counselors should understand how social media can further complicate life transitions for young adults and how changes in unemployment rates and student loan rates can have “very real implications” during an already frightening time period for 20-somethings.

Counselors who desire to work with young adult clients should read more about this generation, Williams says. Understand what makes them culturally unique, what is significant to them and what has shaped their lives. Among the resources that Williams suggests is the 2001 book Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in Your Twenties by Alexandra Robbins and Abby Wilner.

“Cultural shifts of parenting style and expectations are one of the greatest mitigating factors in understanding millennials,” Williams says. “Concepts such as positive reinforcement rather than punishment, or self-esteem building rather than tough love, became popular during the millennials’ formative years. Millennials were revered by parents and sheltered from the world, developing unrealistic expectations of self and never learning skills necessary for survival in the ‘real world.’ Often they have been sheltered so much that they have not been allowed to learn to survive on
their own.”

“In addition to the confounding dynamics such as parental influence, millennials have come to age during a period of significant corporate downsizing, unemployment, underemployment and outsourcing,” Williams continues. “The estimated unemployment rates for young adults are more than double that of overall unemployment rates. As a result, young adults face increased financial stressors, often resulting in an inability to pay student loans, save for retirement or maintain independent living. It is estimated that approximately 44 percent of recent college graduates are currently experiencing underemployment, working in fields and positions in which they are overqualified. Like many other generations, work is a crucial aspect of one’s identity and expression of self. Consequently, when employment aspirations and ideals are not met, crises of personal identity may result.”

Hermann agrees. “Understanding the culture of this population will be important to sustained treatment success,” she says. “I think a systemic perspective is very important, and understanding the individual within [his or her] environment, especially as it pertains to relationships — family of origin, intimate, social, professional — is imperative to treatment.”

Hermann recommends two journals published by ACA divisions to counselors who might be working with this population. One is Adultspan Journal (published by the Association for Adult Development and Aging), which includes topics relevant to young adults. The other is the Journal of Creativity in Mental Health (published by the Association for Creativity in Counseling) “because of the innovative, therapeutic applications that engage and challenge clients to think differently,” she says.

Expert wisdom

To help counselors better prepare to work with clients undergoing a quarter-life crisis, Counseling Today asked these experts to weigh in with their best advice and guidance. Here are their top tips.

  • Don’t minimize the quarter-life crisis, Nelson says. “Far too often, that’s one of the reasons that an individual is there [in counseling] in the first place.” In many cases, parents, peers or co-workers have minimized what these 20-somethings are experiencing, which only ends up increasing the pressure on them, Nelson says.
  • Do focus on wellness, decision-making and the future, Williams says, not pathology.
  • Don’t make assumptions, Hermann says. “Every client has a different past and goals for the future. Focus on the individual,” she says. Although counselors develop models and frameworks to understand patterns, “every person is a unique human,” Hermann reminds her colleagues.
  • Do your research, Nelson says. Become aware of factors outside of your counseling specialty or area of practice that may be affecting young adults. “Awareness is half the battle,” she says.
  • Do make it clear to these clients that this is short-term counseling, Williams says, “because you lose Generation Y if you are going to ask them to come back for 15 sessions. They really need to see the end from the beginning.”
  • Don’t rely solely on clinical intuition, Williams adds. “I love the fact that we are intuitive, but we have instruments and science out there that can help us,” he says.
  • Do consider group therapy. “If you are working in a setting that has the ability to utilize group therapy and group counseling interventions, I would say go for it,” Nelson says. “I think that group counseling can really help that process of normalizing the crisis [and] developing a support network for individuals beyond their counselors.”
  • Do take the time to explore the individual’s relationships, including family relationships, intimate relationships, friendships and work relationships, Hermann says. “This exploration will give counselors an understanding of the individual and also the depth and capacity of [his or her] support group. In addition, so many of the changes that occur during this developmental period are connected to changes in relationships, so having a complete understanding of the relational aspects of an individual can be helpful in understanding and focusing a treatment plan.”
  • Do encourage these clients to address their relationship with their parents, Williams says. It is a relationship that has likely changed now that these young adults are in their 20s, but it is a relationship and an influence that has long been paramount to them, he says.
  • Do normalize the crisis, Nelson says. Point clients toward books or other resources to help them recognize that they are not alone in experiencing these struggles and challenges.
  • Do explore identity development with clients, Hermann says. What is meaningful to them, and how do they create meaning?
  • Do give these clients resources, books to read and homework to do, Williams says. They are typically used to being on the computer and doing research, so they are likely to engage in the homework related to their own counseling, he says.
  • Do ask questions and then address any issues that become apparent from the answers, Nelson says. “Is it stressful to pay your student loans each month? Is it stressful to be pressured by your parents to be married and to have children, and how are you dealing with that?” Nelson suggests asking. “I don’t think that counselors need to be afraid and shy away from addressing the quarter-life crisis.”

 

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To contact the individuals interviewed for this article, email:

 

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Lynne Shallcross, a former associate editor and senior writer at Counseling Today, works for Kaiser Health News as a web producer. Contact her at lshallcross@gmail.com.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

Review: ‘Yalom’s Cure’ offers an honest glimpse into psychiatrist’s life

By Bethany Bray April 18, 2016

Psychiatrist Irvin Yalom is a giant in the field – a well-known author and scholar. But his life hasn’t always taken an easy or clearly-marked route to success.

The new documentary Yalom’s Cure offers a glimpse of the man beyond his many degrees, accolades and accomplishments.

Yalom offers insights through on-camera interviews and shares some of the history and experiences that have made him who he is today. An existential psychiatrist, Yalom is a professor emeritus of psychiatry at Stanford University and author of more than a dozen books, both nonfiction and fiction.

YalomsCure

“Therapists are in therapy their entire lives,” Yalom muses in the film’s narrative. “Learning, changing, (and) growing is kind of part of our lifelong education. So knowing oneself is very important. Socrates spent a long time teaching that, and I very much agree with him.”

Directed by Swiss filmmaker Sabine Gisiger, Yalom’s Cure is done in a biographical style, including interviews with Yalom, his wife Marilyn and their children and grandchildren.

Through footage of family vacations and scenes of Yalom at home and at work, we are given a glimpse of Yalom’s family dynamics, his long-lasting relationship with Marilyn, his reflections on a life of learning and his professional and personal struggles along the way.

“If we don’t understand ourselves we may not be able to understand others, or appreciate others,” Yalom says. “I’m a guide on this voyage of self-exploration. I’m a guide because I’ve been there before.”

The film weaves footage of his professional life – including a brief clip of him at ACA’s 2012 Conference & Expo in San Francisco, where he was keynote speaker – with scenes of him working with a client, childhood photos, family home videos and archive footage of him leading group sessions in training videos from the 1970s and 1980s. Yalom’s contemplative narrative is also voiced over footage of him riding a bicycle, lost in thought or pouring over notes in his office or cooking with Marilyn or laughing with her in a hot tub.

He talks openly about his family relationships and the many phases of life that led to his professional journey from medical school in the 1950s to becoming a psychiatrist, professor and author.

Yalom trained with a Freudian analyst while at Johns Hopkins University in the 1950s. The many hours he spent with this therapist taught him “how not to be with patients,” he says. With the Freudian method – “a very bad model,” says Yalom – the therapist is unreactive and unengaged with what the client is saying.

Clients need an authentic, genuine relationship with a therapist, he says, in which the clinician is “both participant and observer.”

Yalom goes on to talk about his early start with group work, his professional journey and his calling to write.

Every person feels worry and stress – it is universal, although different cultures deal with it differently, Yalom muses.

“That is something that therapy can help you realize,” he says. “It’s a ‘welcome to the human race’ kind of thing.”

Yalom was one of the most-mentioned figures in Counseling Today’s recent “Influential thinkers” project. Numerous counselors said Yalom was someone who most influenced their professional work.

Born in 1931, Yalom was 80 at the time of the filming of Yalom’s Cure. He continues to see clients at his private practice in California, write and do speaking engagements. His latest book, Creatures of a Day: And Other Tales of Psychotherapy, was released in February.

“I feel freer and not anxious about things. I feel very creative and very excited about my work,” Yalom says, breaking into a smile. “I just want to say to the younger people (who are watching): There may be even better days ahead.”

 

 

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Yalom’s Cure was screened in Los Angeles this spring. The DVD is now available for purchase.

 

For more information or to watch the trailer, visit yalomscure.com

 

 

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Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at bbray@counseling.org

 

Follow Counseling Today on Twitter @ACA_CTonline and on Facebook at facebook.com/CounselingToday.

Coping with college

By Laurie Meyers March 28, 2016

Often parentally micromanaged, pressured by high expectations, grappling with depression and anxiety, a bit socially awkward or just a little bit lost in a strange new world, today’s college students are seeking counseling in greater numbers than did previous generations, according to college counselors and other experts.

Those who counsel students point to various factors for this surge in clients, including greater overall awareness of mental health issues, higher rates of depression and stress, and a huge increase in the overall student population at colleges and universities. According to the Institute of Education Branding-Images_CollegeSciences, the research and statistical arm of the U.S. Department of Education, between 1992 and 2012 (the latest year for which statistics are available), the number of students enrolled in degree-granting institutions has grown by 39 percent.

National surveys conducted by the American College Counseling Association (ACCA), a division of the American Counseling Association, indicate that the percentage of students struggling with serious mental health issues has also increased. In addition, 42.4 percent of the almost 75,000 undergraduate students who completed the 2015 annual American College Health Association National College Health Assessment reported experiencing greater than average stress within the past 12 months, and 10.3 percent reported feeling tremendous stress. When asked about depression and anxiety during the previous 12 months, 35.3 percent of survey respondents reported feeling so depressed that it was difficult for them to function; 57.7 percent indicated feeling overwhelming anxiety.

At the same time, staff growth at college and university counseling centers has typically failed to keep pace with this increased burden. As a result, these counseling centers are often scrambling to stay on top of their caseloads, and college counselors are using a variety of campus resources and outreach methods to meet the needs of today’s students.

Welcome to the new world

One of the defining features of the traditional college experience is leaving the nest. But many students in the current generation are having trouble finding their wings, according to college counselors. That’s in part because, generally, today’s young adults are used to their parents managing many aspects of their lives, says Suzanne Degges-White, who supervises student counselors as part of her role as a professor and chair of the Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education at Northern Illinois University.

“We’re dealing with helicopter parents,” she says. “They’ve done so much [for their children]. And then when you get to college, your teachers don’t care if you do your homework, and your parents aren’t there to remind you.”

“There’s this idea that kids need protecting, so when they get to college, suddenly if they don’t like a class or their roommate, this may bring them in to the counseling center,” adds Degges-White, the ACA Governing Council representative for the Association for Adult Development and Aging.

ACCA President Amy Lenhart agrees, saying that the students she sees often seem ill equipped to handle many of the demands they face, such as managing their academic workloads, interacting with instructors and other students, and even getting to class on time. Both Lenhart and Degges-White say they regularly encounter students who have trouble making any kind of significant decision on their own. In some cases, parents are still trying to make all the decisions for their college-age children, says Lenhart, who works with students on general counseling issues and career concerns at the counseling center at the Preston Ridge Campus of Collin College in Frisco, Texas.

“I can tell you that even in counseling, parents want to make appointments [for their son or daughter],” she says. She has also encountered parents who want to sit in on their son’s or daughter’s career counseling sessions. In such cases, it is important for counselors to set boundaries and let parents and students know that it is time for these young adults to make certain decisions on their own, Lenhart says.

The consequences for students who struggle to make decisions and manage their lives can be severe, Degges-White says. Not studying, skipping classes and failing tests can quickly lead to academic probation, she points out. Although it is easy to dismiss such behavior as laziness or a lack of interest, Degges-White contends that would be a mistake. Instead, counselors need to ask students about their classes, including why they’re not going or why they think they’re failing a particular subject, she says. The answer may be related to poor time management, and many colleges have workshops to which counselors can refer students.

Of course, there may be other underlying reasons. “Sometimes students don’t go to classes because they are not interested in them,” Degges-White says. “Maybe they aren’t suited to the subject or even need a different major.”

However, if the behavior is due to a lack of accountability, counselors should work with students on making decisions and then accepting the consequences, Degges-White says. She likes to use choice theory to help students explore the options available to them. “How are the choices you are making now going to get you to your goals?” she asks. “If they’re not, what other choices can you make?”

ACA member Nick Patras, a licensed professional counselor and assistant director of the counseling center at Texas A&M University-Commerce, dissects the time management process with his clients. Sometimes students come to the counseling center after their first semester having failed several classes and hoping for an easy and instant answer, he says.

Instead, Patras delivers a dose of reality, but he also tries to provide helpful strategies to get the students back on track. “Do you have goals? Do you have projects? Do you have them broken down into stages, or do you wait until the last minute?” he asks these students. “I educate them on how to plan and manage projects by breaking them down into little bites.”

Knowing your students

Josh Gunn, the director of counseling and psychological services at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, urges college counselors to be aware of their campus culture and who their students are. For instance, Kennesaw State’s student body features a significant percentage of first-generation college students, he notes.

Parents who have been to college generally impart at least a minimal amount of knowledge to their children about how college works, but first-generation students don’t have that advantage, says Gunn, a member of ACCA. Not knowing anything about college life can pile on an additional layer of uncertainty and stress, he points out.

First-generation students are also more likely to be putting themselves through school, which may mean working a job in addition to attending classes, Gunn says. For these students, academic struggles may be at least partially tied to general financial stress or simply not having as much time to focus on their studies, he explains. Counselors should consider how putting students in touch with other resources such as the financial aid office or an academic adviser might relieve certain stressors for students, he says.

It’s also important for counselors to keep in mind that not all college students are young adults fresh out of high school. Some students, especially on today’s campuses, are individuals who are beginning or returning to college later in life, Degges-White points out. These students are confronting many of the same stressors as their younger peers, but they will be juggling those stressors with work and family concerns, she says.

Lenhart’s institution is a community college, which means that its students don’t have to meet the enrollment requirements that applicants at four-year colleges and universities do. Because of this, she explains, some of those who enroll — for example, a 50-year-old student who hasn’t taken classes since high school — might not be ready for the courses he or she is taking. It’s important for counselors to consider factors such as these when students come in with academic problems, Lenhart says. What seems like (or may in part be) a time management problem could actually involve a skills deficit for which counselors should refer students to the tutoring center and their academic advisers, she says.CommunityCollege

When academic performance is a predominant concern for students, it affects every area of their lives, including their mental health, Gunn says. Therefore, when students come to the counseling center and present with depression, anxiety or stress, it is important for counselors to ask how their courses are going, because academic concerns may be exacerbating whatever other issues they are concerned about, he says.

Counselors should also keep in mind that if a student is struggling with academics, that issue doesn’t necessarily go away just because the mental health problem has been addressed. “If you’ve cured someone’s depression but they flunk out, you’ve failed,” Gunn says.

 Making new connections

Joel Lane, who studies the theory of emerging adulthood and is the coordinator of the clinical mental health counseling program at Portland State University in Oregon, says that, traditionally, a person’s late teens and early 20s were when attachment relationships shifted from one’s parents to peers and romantic partners. Possessing the ability to form and maintain these healthy attachments is especially important in times of transition and can affect not just an individual’s personal life but his or her professional life as well, he says.

However, for members of the millennial generation, that process has become more complex for several reasons, according to Lane. One is that young adults (ages 18-25) are “younger” psychosocially than previous generations have been. Millennials’ identity exploration is taking place at a later age when they are no longer adolescents but when they do not consider themselves adults yet either, he says. Also, because their parents often continue to manage their lives, these young adults may be less likely to seek other sources of emotional support, at least in the “real” world, Lane continues. Where today’s young adults tend to turn to seek support and interact with others is social media, he explains. And although social media may be good for those purposes, it does not generally prepare young adults for making connections and conversing in their classes, in social situations or on the job, Lane contends.

Unfortunately, many college counselors report that social anxiety — which negatively influences a person’s ability to form new attachments — appears to be much more prevalent among today’s students than in prior generations and is a factor in a significant number of their clients’ cases. Patras says that about half of his cases involve social anxiety as either the presenting concern or an aggravating factor. Often, he says, the students he sees simply do not understand how to interact with others.

“They don’t know how to talk to people, how to carry on a conversation or how to ask someone out,” Patras says. “It’s partly socioeconomic” — the university where Patras works is located in a rural, impoverished area — “but [it’s] mostly because they are interacting on social media and not in real life.”

Lenhart and Degges-White have observed this as well. Although none of the three counselors believes that social media is inherently bad, they do think it has caused a significant shift in how young adults interact with one another. “They say they are ‘dating,’ but they might just be interacting on Facebook or through texting,” Patras notes.

Although it’s true that adolescents and young adults are establishing social networks online, they typically do this in solitude at their computers or on tablets instead of learning face-to-face communication and interaction skills, Degges-White says. She adds that many of today’s college students spend their social time video chatting with friends from home rather than going out and making new friends.

Technology does provide its own kind of connection and access to a wide array of helpful resources, Lenhart acknowledges, but it is also easy to hide behind, particularly for those with social anxiety. “We want them to actually be out in the world,” she emphasizes.

Which is why some college counselors are gently but firmly pushing students out of their comfort zones.

For instance, Patras holds workshops on social skills. He teaches students how to integrate into an unfamiliar group by first finding one person within the group to talk to. When participants ask how to start a conversation with someone they don’t know, he tells them to ask the other person about himself or herself. “Everyone likes to talk about themselves,” he says. In the workshops and in individual counseling, Patras also teaches students relaxation and emotional regulation skills such as mindfulness meditation and deep breathing to help ease their anxiety.

Lenhart asks students to try attending social events such as campus group meetings or parties. “Just challenge yourself,” she urges students. “Make sure you have a way you can leave if you get uncomfortable, and just stay, even if it’s only for 10 minutes.”

Degges-White believes a combination of cognitive behavior therapy and a bit of desensitization therapy is effective in helping students overcome social anxiety. Her counseling center also refers students to small group sessions in which students can practice talking to one another. Degges-White has also found that giving “homework” assignments to students, such as having them talk to at least one person in one of their classes each week, encourages greater social engagement. Because a lack of social skills is becoming more common in young people, even high schools are beginning to offer groups that focus on these skills, she says.

Managing mental health needs

College counseling centers don’t just deal with students’ issues related to time management, academic adjustment, social skills, being away from home for the first time, getting used to living with other people and, as time goes by, choosing a major and career path. The age range when most people go to college — late teens to early 20s — is also the age at which serious mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia often appear. College is also a time when many people choose to begin experimenting with drugs and alcohol, which can lead to substance abuse problems.

Unfortunately, the level and length of care that college counselors can provide to students experiencing serious mental health issues varies greatly. Patras says that his counseling center currently has the resources to work with students for as long as they need it and are willing to do the work. According to Patras, the small city of Commerce has only two mental health professionals, and many of the university’s students don’t have private insurance, so the school’s counseling center is a particularly essential resource.

Other institutions are forced to limit the number of sessions that each student is entitled to or else maintain long waiting lists because demand is so high, Lenhart says. Because of these limitations, many college counseling centers focus on triage. This involves getting the most severe cases in or, if necessary, referred out for hospitalization or psychiatric care immediately, and using brief interventions such as solution-focused therapy for less severe cases, she says.

Some colleges are relying more frequently on group therapy, which doesn’t count against students’ allotted center visits and has the added benefit of helping students interact with others, Lenhart says. This is especially important in cases in which students are dealing with depression or social anxiety, she adds. Groups can also be particularly beneficial for students dealing with grief, working through issues related to their sexual or gender identity and a wide range of other challenges.

Gunn says some of the counselors in his center are taking on the role of case managers in the more complex cases. These counselors get students who just got out of the hospital or have special needs set up with a psychiatrist or an on-campus counseling group.

College counselors are also reaching out to students to raise their awareness of the many services that counselors can provide; distributing psychoeducational materials and doing public screenings; and educating faculty and staff on spotting the signs of behavioral problems.

Gunn’s counseling center gives regular workshops on everything from decision-making to general wellness to sexual assault awareness. He believes that college counseling needs to become more proactive; not just to let students know where the center is located and say, “Come see us when you’re ready,” but to actively look for potential problems in hopes of preventing bigger ones. His staff regularly provides information about identifying behavioral problems to the resident life program, department heads and other faculty and staff. In addition to encouraging prevention, he hopes that counselors can help create campus cultures in which the belief becomes that safety is everyone’s responsibility.

Lenhart bemoans the lack of residence halls on the community college campus where she works because she believes that hall staff — due to their more frequent contact with students — serve as a sort of first line of defense for identifying students who may be struggling and in need of counseling. That doesn’t mean the college’s faculty and staff aren’t vigilant. In fact, she says, faculty and staff often bring students to the counseling staff’s attention and even walk those in need of help to the center if need be.

“We train them [faculty and staff] for what to look for,” she says. “Dropping grades; changes in appearance, such as becoming disheveled, not bathing; maybe acting out in class; maybe being angry — any kind of change in behavior that is unusual for that student.”

“We have to work harder at promoting counseling to students because of the come-and-go nature of our [community college] program,” Lenhart says. “I think, sadly, the assumption is that counselors at community college campuses are like guidance counselors.”

So, Lenhart and her counselor colleagues educate, educate, educate, conducting psychoeducational sessions and distributing informational fliers for national events such as Depression Awareness Day. Professors also have the counseling center staff visit classes and give presentations on stress and anxiety, she adds. She believes that classroom sessions not only help demystify what college counselors do but also get students more comfortable with the idea of coming to the counseling center.

Many colleges now have a kind of “college 101” class for incoming freshmen. The counselors interviewed for this article said it is important for college counseling centers to be involved with these efforts, either by providing educational materials or giving presentations.

Patras’ counseling center maintains liaisons within all of the university’s major academic departments and also works closely with campus police, who refer students to counseling if they have had trouble related to alcohol or drug use. The counseling center also educates other faculty and staff about possible indicators that students may need help, such as unusual acting-out behaviors (for example, outbursts in class), slipping grades or a previously responsible student who is now missing classes or not completing assignments.

Behavioral intervention teams are also becoming common on college campuses. The problem-solving teams typically include counselors and representatives from campus departments such as student affairs, campus police or security, student conduct and resident life, explains Brian Van Brunt, a past president of ACCA and author of Harm to Others: The Assessment and Treatment of Dangerousness, published by ACA. These teams meet regularly — typically once a week — to exchange information. The goal is to identify incidents or patterns that might indicate a possible problem — such as increased substance abuse arrests or a rash of suicide attempts — and to formulate a course of action with the goal of preventing larger problems.

Events such as the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech provided the impetus for the creation of behavioral intervention teams, Gunn says. Even so, he cautions college counselors not to focus exclusively on such large-scale events. “Don’t waste all your time preparing for a mass shooting that may never happen,” he says.

Events such as a student’s suicide are more common, he explains, and likely to have a significant effect on campus mental health. To reach as many students as possible, counselors need to encourage an environment of multidepartmental sharing, he adds.

In many ways, counselors interviewed for this article say, college counseling has become a campuswide effort.

 

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Additional resources

For those who would like to learn more about the topics addressed in this article, the American Counseling Association offers the following resources.

Books (counseling.org/bookstore)

  • Group Work and Outreach Plans for College Counselors edited by Trey Fitch and Jennifer L. Marshall
  • Harm to Others: The Assessment and Treatment of Dangerousness by Brian Van Brunt
  • Eating Disorders and Obesity by Laura H. Choate
  • A Contemporary Approach to Substance Use Disorders and Addiction Counseling, second edition, by Ford Brooks and Bill McHenry
  • Treatment Strategies for Substance and Process Addictions by Robert L. Smith

Webinars (counseling.org/continuing-education/webinars)

VISTAS Online articles  (counseling.org/knowledge-center/vistas)

  • “Counseling International Students” by Julia F. Kronholz
  • “Distressed College Students Following Traumatic Events” by Simone F. Lambert, Joyce C. Lambert and Samuel J. Lambert III
  • “Helping College Students Develop Mental Wellness Skills Through Journaling Techniques” by Julia Y. Porter
  • “Needs Assessment for Counseling GLBT Clients” by Rebecca Gardner, Joshua Adkins, Whitney Gillespie and Cristen Wathen
  • “Passport to Wholeness: The Effects of a Campus Mental Health Fair on Help-Seeking Attitudes” by Lucinda C. West and Anita Knight
  • “Recovering College Students: Practical Considerations for College Counselors” by Mark S. Woodford
  • “The Effects of a Brief Mindfulness Intervention on Self-Compassion Among Undergraduate College Students” by Danielle Richards and William E. Martin Jr.

 

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The American College Counseling Association, a division of ACA, focuses on fostering student development in colleges, universities and community colleges. Visit collegecounseling.org to learn more about the division and to access its array of resources.

 

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To contact the people interviewed for this article, email:

 

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Laurie Meyers is the senior writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at lmeyers@counseling.org.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org