Benefits of student counseling on campus

Johanna Pugh

From juggling papers and tests to part-time jobs and extracurricular activities, college students balance a lot on their plates. With this balancing act comes stress. While feeling pressure is a natural outcome of being busy, the way students handle stress has the ability to impact how they function daily.

According to the American College Health Association, in 2013 nearly 30 percent of college students reported stress impacted them to the point of finding it too difficult to function and this negatively affected their academic performances.

There are a number of ways Sacramento State students can potentially manage their stress levels, and one of them includes visiting the Student Health and Counseling Services [SHCS] on campus.

“The reason we exist here as a counseling center is because the reality is a large percentage of the student body will encounter some kind of difficulty in their life,” said SHCS clinical director Ron Lutz, 60, who holds a doctorate in psychology. “These concerns may get in the way of their academic progress. Sometimes that can be a relationship break-up, sometimes it can be problems with depression, anxiety, maybe there’s issues going on in the family. For any of those reasons, it can really be distressing and really take a toll on people emotionally and make it difficult to focus on their studies.”

SHCS is located on the second floor of The Well and offers counseling services for students ranging from group to individual therapy sessions, as well as wellness promotion workshops.

“Our mission is really to help students resolve these issues so they can go on and graduate and be successful,” Lutz said.

While this is a basic resource available to students which comes with tuition, some shy away from counseling due to the stigma mental health has.

“I know there’s a stigma attached and that’s the biggest thing [stopping people from seeking help],” said theatre major Jacob Divis, 21. “Like there’s this idea that you must be completely insane or a neurotic mess if you’re getting counseling and therapy and all that, which you don’t have to be.”

Divis said over time, therapy has become a process he is more comfortable with and he realizes the importance of it. He said it has helped him in managing concerns and he is aware of how others may perceive that.

“I’ve got Asperger’s [syndrome] so it’s a little hard to admit that to some people because people get these ideas of what you’re like and it’s not accurate,” Divis said. “It seems like half the time with Asperger’s, people assume either you’re a [expletive] or you’re Rain Man and hopefully I don’t remind people of either of those.”

Counselors at SHCS recognize students can feel unsure about getting help.

“For somebody that is hesitant to seek therapy, I would say it doesn’t mean you’re crazy, it just means you’re human,” said case manager Katie Hodgson, 30. “And part of being human is being social and needing somebody to bounce things off of.”

Hodgson has a master’s degree in social work and has worked as a group and individual therapist for students at SHCS for more than three years.

Hodgson encourages students to view therapy as having a neutral space to voice their concerns.

“It’s a great place to go to not be influenced by anyone else’s opinion but just get clarity on your own thoughts,” Hodgson said. “We’re not all privileged. Even if you do have the biggest community of friends and family, it doesn’t always mean that there’s the best space for you to talk about certain issues.”

Divis brought up the idea of how some students may have the mentality that relying on someone else for help could be seen as a weakness.

“So many people place an emphasis on taking care of your own problems without help that sometimes we forget we are a social species,” Divis said. “We’re a species that’s always been one that’s needed to rely on one another.”

SHCS is overseen by Lutz, who said there are 11 licensed therapists and three to four master’s in social work interns working at the center.

Lutz has been working as a counselor for 24 years and as the SHCS clinical director at Sac State since February.

“I think it’s a privilege to work with university students,” Lutz said. “The environment is one that’s interesting to be around.”

Hodgson sees therapy as a good instrument to have to get students to see themselves in a more positive light.

“We can just be so hard on ourselves. I think it’s helpful to get it out of our own heads,” Hodgson said. “When we talk about it, when you can get validation like, ‘it’s okay, you’re not crazy,’ I think it helps us feel much more human, whereas if we’re sitting alone with challenges or struggles it’s a really lonely place to be.”

While there may be certain pre-conceived notions students have about therapy, Divis said he thinks it could help with managing stress.

“I think ultimately it’s beneficial,” Divis said. “I’ve had to deal with things that sometimes were difficult or confusing and therapy helped. It honestly did. I also suffer from depression and sometimes it’s the simple case of talking to someone who’s actually paid to listen to your problems and give feedback that can potentially help.”

Lutz and Hodgson both assert that SHCS provides a safe, confidential setting for students to simply discuss what is bothering them. The counselors assure students nothing they say leaves the room and is never noted on their academic records.

The center offers an initial 30 minute appointment where students can talk to a therapist and assess for themselves whether the particular therapist is the right fit for them or if it is something they want to continue to partake in at all.

“There’s no couch you have to lie down on,” Hodgson said. “Therapy is what you want it to be. It’s really yours to take ownership of.”

In terms of counseling services, SHCS also provides couples counseling, learning disability testing and emergency services which includes suicide prevention, domestic violence and sexual assault support services.

“You have these resources here, it’s a good idea to use them even if sometimes it may be a little difficult for you to accept or if there’s a pride thing getting in the way,” Divis said.

SHCS is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Fridays. Lutz said there is also an urgent care counselor who is available on a drop-in basis to students for emergency counseling services between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.

“Sometimes some people just need a little help and you shouldn’t be thought of as anything different,” Divis said. “There’s nothing wrong with needing help.”