Top-ranked Counseling Center meets students’ needs

From the pressure to excel in class and get along with roommates to the stress of paying for school and figuring out what to do with your life, college students face an array of unique issues that can impact their emotional and mental health.

Add masking up, social distancing, curtailed campus activities and the possibility of a sudden order to self-isolate or quarantine due to COVID-19, to those standard stressors and it’s a good bet that more students are wrestling with issues of anxiety and depression this year. At Grove City College, students have a place they can go and people who can help when it gets to be too much.

The College’s Counseling Center offers an array of mental health services, including individual counseling, consultations, groups, seminars, trainings and crisis management interventions. The staff includes six counselors who offer professional, confidential services to about 500 students each year, about 20 percent of the private Christian college’s student body. Over forty percent of Grove City College students access counseling services at some point during their college years.

Counseling Center data indicates most students who seek help are dealing with anxiety, mood and relationship issues. About 8 percent of students sought counseling for adjustment issues last year, but that number is on the rise during the pandemic,” Director of College Counseling Dr. Suzanne N. Houk said.

“Students have seemed to struggle more with adjustment this semester. Uncertainty regarding self-isolation or quarantine has led to heightened irritability. Students have had to make more effort to stay connected to friends. Others’ responses to the current global crises have impacted them. Students already struggling with mental health disorders have been experiencing increased symptoms. Overall, they are experiencing higher stress with fewer outlets to cope,” Houk said.

When the campus closed last spring, the Center adjusted along with everyone else to working remotely. With technological capability in place before the lockdown, counselors were able to continue assisting students who were no longer on campus. When the College reopened this fall, Houk said it was important for the center to be there to meet student needs in person.

“We believe that healing comes from meeting individually with students in an environment that fosters open communication to gain and expand understanding. We believe that student needs are best met when that is done in person,” she said, noting that telehealth services are available for students who prefer that or who are isolated for health reasons.

The quality of the staff’s commitment was recognized nationally this fall when The Princeton Review’s annual Student Survey ranked the center 14th in the nation for best counseling service. Houk said the center is honored by the recognition.

“We have consistently worked to provide excellent services to students. This includes individual counseling as a first encounter, at a time when many other counseling centers, being overworked and understaffed, have some students begin with video instruction and group sessions. Our commitment is to meet with students for as many sessions as needed to resolve their difficulties or distress,” she said.

As well as serving individual students, the Counseling Center reaches out to the entire campus community to help students understand issues that can affect them emotionally and psychologically through a weekly Happy Mail email communication and an Instagram account.

While Grove City College is a Christian institution, counselors let students set the tone for their encounters. Where a student may be on their faith journey is part of the assessment process, Houk said. “We recognize that we are spirits, with souls, in bodies. Comprehensive treatment—addressing the whole person—is most effective. However, the student leads with what aspects of self are worked on, in accord with ethical guidelines of our helping professions,” she said.

“I think we are different in as much that we are as ‘faith filled’ as we are ‘faith based,’” Counselor Molly Hepner said. “While we allow students to gauge how faith is incorporated into sessions, behind the scenes, we pray with and for one another as well as for our students.  This is a Spirit led work as only the Holy Spirit can do.”

Top-ranked Counseling Center meets students’ needs

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