Lend Me Your Ears (Confidentially): Counseling Center Supports Personal and Academic Success
Today’s students have many stressors. In addition to devoting substantial time to classes and studying, many work part- or full-time jobs, encounter peer pressure on a variety of levels, maintain personal relationships, and quite possibly are already raising children.
And the number of students seeking services for mental health issues is growing. An estimated 27 percent of young adults between 18 and 24 have a diagnosable mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. As many as 35 percent of students at U.S. universities and liberal arts colleges are seeking treatment for anxiety disorders, according to a recent survey by the Anxiety Disorders Association of America.
“Students sometimes need a boost to achieve personal and academic success, and just a little bit of support can go a long way,” said Dr. Joan McCool, a psychologist and director of Buffalo State’s Counseling Center. “They’re always welcome here. We’re a 12-months-a-year facility that handles the gamut of needs, from homesickness to life-threatening emergencies.”
The Counseling Center offers services such as short-term psychotherapy, psychiatric treatment, couples counseling, group therapy, and workshops. It also serves as a training site for doctoral candidates and is a center for research. Staff members present at conferences, train resident assistants and orientation leaders, and provide professional training for the campus’s Critical Incident Support Team, such as crisis intervention and suicide prevention. The center has met the high professional standards of the International Association of Counseling Services for more than 20 years, and McCool is an IACS accrediting board member.
“We pride ourselves on high-quality professional care and well-trained staff,” said McCool. “We keep ourselves current and stay ahead of the curve. The CIS Team, for example, was in place long before the tragedy at Columbine. In fact, several members of our staff have presented our proactive approach at the American Psychological Association’s annual convention. Currently some counselors are busy with a Department of Justice grant to reduce violence against women on campus and are active presenters of their scholarship and research at national conventions.
“Having the CIS Team in place was especially helpful during 9/11 and the recent Virginia Tech tragedy,” continued McCool. “We are so fortunate to have such fine clinicians at the Counseling Center. They go well beyond the traditional counseling role, serving as leaders, mentors, and partners to many groups on campus and in the community.”
The center saw an increase in students for individual services last year, and provided support and advocacy to many more students distressed due to recent losses or stressors. The center also provided outreach to students through workshops and classroom presentations. With these responsibilities, however, comes the need for balancing treatment with confidentiality.
“We follow strict federal and American Psychological Association ethical guidelines on patient privacy,” said McCool. “Students wouldn’t come here if they didn’t think there was confidentiality. We only break it with the student’s consent or if the student is at imminent risk to him or herself or others. And even then we notify only those with a need to know—someone who can get help for the student.”
True to its mantra that academic success is its first goal, the center offers students a series of skill-building workshops. Topics this semester include sleep health, women’s personal growth, cognitive behavioral skills, anger management, grief and loss healing, and alcohol intervention and screening. In addition, the center is organizing programs for National Depression Screening Day on October 11.
Staff members assist faculty and staff by offering consultations, especially in regard to student needs and concerns. They also recommend referrals in the community, and can help develop responses to substance issues.
“If there’s anything I’d really want faculty and staff to know, it’s to always call us if they have any concerns,” said McCool. “When there is effective collaboration between faculty and staff and the Counseling Center, early intervention is more likely to occur. Our priority is to be available as practitioners and consultants to help students succeed, to foster wellness and growth, and to help the community manage adversity and stressful circumstances.”