Finding a Safe Space

Within the past year, COVID-19 has brought about unprecedented challenges. These include long- and short-term mental health struggles which may have existed before the pandemic or were created by it.

In a normal year, college students have to balance academics, social life, potential homesickness and personal struggles, to name a few. However, this past year has been anything but normal. Academic programs are now hybrid or completely virtual, social distancing is as common as apple pie, and in-person activities have either been postponed or severely restricted in terms of the number of people that can attend.

All of this has put a mental strain on students. Thankfully, there is an answer for those looking to make sense of their personal and pandemic-related struggles: the Sacred Heart Counseling Center.

James Geisler, the Acting Director of Student Wellness Services, offered some starting points.

“All of our services are currently virtual,” Geisler said. “If students want to schedule an appointment, they can contact our office manager Alyssa. They’ll get set up with an initial screening which lasts between 30-45 minutes. The purpose of the screening is to see if they fall within our scope of services, and then we’ll assign them to a weekly counselor.”

Among the scope of services offered is short-term care with possibilities for long-term care in which the center would help the student find a qualified therapist. According to the Counseling Center website, they will be given a list of local, outside referrals and will be responsible for all costs incurred.

“We follow this model because we are only here during the school year,” said Kara Pacewicz, a new counselor on the staff. “Our goal is to help students feel confident and comfortable to function well during their everyday life on campus outside of our sessions.”

For students, one benefit of having short-term counseling is going through sessions from the comfort of their own dorm room. Geisler says it eliminates all the traditional bells and whistles of therapy.

“If students are feeling overwhelmed and that getting across campus might be too much for them, they can just simply log in and log out and get right to their homework,” he said. “They don’t have to walk, fill out forms, ride the elevator, etc. It’s less intimidating for them.”

Even though modern technology can make therapy less intimidating for students, there are ways that students can cope on their own until they are more comfortable with the idea of seeing a counselor.

“I think coming up with a self-care routine is something that all of us as individuals should do, and it is helpful for coping with daily life stressors,” said Pacewicz. “Students should definitely look into developing coping strategies to help them manage any physical symptoms that they might be experiencing. Another idea is to reach out to members of their support system.”

Even if students decide to go their own way in terms of mental health, the Counseling Center will still be an option for them to pursue if they need a confidential, safe space.

Geisler is optimistic about the future of the center. He said, “My goal as the acting director is to reduce the stigma associated with seeking counseling. If we can create that culture here, I think we will be in a really good place to help the student body moving forward.”

If you would like to make an appointment with the SHU Counseling Center, please call 203-371-7955 and they will set up a virtual session with you. If no one answers, leave a voicemail and they will return your call.

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