Cook Counseling answers diverse student needs with responsive care
Marking Mental Health Awareness Month, Cook Counseling Center's liaisons to Cultural and Community Centers and to Services for Students with Disabilites reflect on how their outreach programs and practices help diverse student groups learn about and access mental health supports. TimelyCare creates more availability for those supports by adding complementary care. One student shares her experience with using the service.
Cook Counseling will be consolidating its offices to Gilbert Street later this month, while Residential Well-being embedded counselors will be in East Eggleston, closer to the residence halls. Students are encouraged to reach out for any needs over summer sessions.
In my work with Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) students, we have several support groups, including one for general mental health, another for APIDA men, and a new one for questioning and queer students.
I help with orientation for international students, just to let them know we at Cook are here for them. When they see me as a former international student, someone who shares a similar identity, it can make it easier for them to approach counseling.
We all bring our cultural experience into the counseling or support group space. Some aspects are observable, but others we don't really see. So it's important for therapists to pay attention to those hidden aspects of culture and to intersections of culture.
I've heard students say their culture and identity sometimes wasn’t understood in their previous counseling experiences. Counseling can sometimes be very Westernized if it's just prescribed from theory. I like to tailor interventions. There's a lot of flexibility when I pay attention to a student's culture and interests to help understand them.
Even when I work with Chinese students and we share identity or speak the same language, cultural humility is important, because people have different family and upbringing from different regions. Just being open minded and willing to learn students’ experiences is really helpful.
Some students said my recent stress management workshop really helped them overcome internalized cultural ideas that stress is a personal weakness and helped them understand it's a biological response, a normal, a shared experience.
Muriel Vinson, Cook Counseling Center mental health professional, on collaborative care:
Serving marginalized populations, I'm aware there's no way I'm going to come in knowing everything about someone's cultural perspective. Cultural humility has been crucial in building trust between me and my clients and with their support systems. Making it a collaboration seems to really work: you’re the expert in your culture and experience, and I'm the expert in mental health.
When you're with someone who shares your affinities or your intersectionalities, there are some things you just don't have to explain. Particularly for those who have marginalized identities, that contributes to a sense of safety, of being seen, heard and validated, that can be really crucial in navigating every other facet of life as a student.
At cultural center welcome events, I like to make sure people see my face and let them know about Cook Counseling. That face-to-face outreach builds rapport and a sense of safety that can help a student think, "This is something that feels accessible to me."
We've seen huge progress in students feeling comfortable accessing therapy, particularly with students going by to see the embedded counselors in dorms or in their colleges. That's made a real difference in normalizing counseling, in the visibility of mental health care for students, and in people understanding how crucial those are.
I work with some students who see themselves as disabled, either because of mental health difficulties or because of physical, cognitive, or sensory disability, and some who could be said to have a disability for mental health reasons but who may not see themselves as disabled.
It's really important to think about how each of those students can best access our services and what barriers to services exist for those students.
In a recent survey of TimelyCare clients, more than half of respondents said that if TimelyCare didn’t exist, they wouldn’t have reached out for care. For someone with anxiety, even sitting in a waiting room could be overwhelming. We're looking for ways to make our in-person services more accessible to students. Having TimelyCare meets a lot of those accessibility needs and has been a really great option to have.
Students may worry if a counselor is going to understand their experience. For one example, we see a lot of students here with ADHD. Several of our counselors here and providers through TimelyCare have special knowledge of working with students with ADHD.
Respecting identity is crucial to creating and sustaining a relationship and effective care in the counseling process. It helps ensure you're understanding the person and not just addressing certain symptoms or problems they may have.
When you feel seen and heard, it can help accelerate well-being. Understanding someone as they are responds to them in the full context of their life. That's particularly true for students within a marginalized population, who may have different stressors or relationships to resources. They may be affected by perceptions of stigma around mental health or by perceptions that mental health care is for privileged people.
I provide a service called Let's Talk in partnership with SOAR, where students can come in and just talk with me about everyday mental health concerns. We provide education, talk about stress management, the human side of their academic experience, and talk about what counseling looks like and what they might expect from it.
Jess Westcott, Cook Counseling Center coordinator for liaison services, on affirming and responsive care:
I work a lot with LGBTQ+ students, and one of the concerns that pretty consistently comes up for them when they are looking into mental health treatment is, "Do I know that the person helping me is going to be affirming?"
We've had a lot of students that have had mental health experiences that were not culturally responsive and aware, so we have a real opportunity to validate them and provide for repairing and healing.
We hear a lot in higher education about meeting students where they are. But what does that actually mean? It's putting in practice our drop-in hours, embedded counselors, outreach with campus cultural centers.
It might start as an informal conversation in one of those settings that invites a Cook Connect session to talk more formally about what's best for the student. Is it a group, a workshop? It may be counseling or accessing some campus resource to help with something outside of mental health.
Sarah Ogden, sophomore political science and Arabic major, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, on using TimelyCare:
I knew about Cook, but I don't have the time during the week to go somewhere in person, and I prefer my own space versus an office, so virtual care really worked for me. I had trouble finding anyone who did virtual services, was on my insurance, and also had availability. That was the worst part, because nobody was accepting new clients.
TimelyCare listed all the available providers and their specialties. That really helped me know what I was getting into. It took away the fear that I might go through multiple therapists before I found one that worked for me. I wanted a female provider, and I knew I wanted to focus on anxiety and attention deficit disorder.
There is a service for immediate care, so people may think that you have to be going through some sort of mental health crisis to use TimelyCare, but the scheduled counseling sessions are literally just a routine checkup. If I don't have any immediate needs at my appointments, I always use them to sit, reconnect with my thoughts, and check in with myself and how I’m feeling.
And it’s free for students, so I didn't have to worry about my insurance or anything. I also really appreciate the structure of the appointments, with a survey at the beginning of every appointment so I can see my progress and a summary at the end of what we talked about and what to focus on this week. It's very personal. I'm able to have the same therapist every two weeks for my appointment.