Health counseling services don’t go all the way

NYUSH students with no previous counseling experience but hoping to find solutions to their deeper mental health problems through university services are not always getting the answers they need.

The counseling service, according to the official website of NYUSH Health Center, is intended to be a professional service “that focuses on helping individuals gain a better understanding of themselves and develop effective techniques for navigating emotions and relationships.”

While the university’s definition is well understood among students who are familiar with the service, the inexperienced ones often approach it as a means for problem-solving.

These students’ first motivation for talking to a university counselor is usually to address specific difficulties they encounter in their daily life and the emotional shocks triggered by these incidents. 

Tianqi Zhan, a NYUSH junior majoring in neuroscience, said it was academic pressure that took her to the university counselor. “Failing to meet my expectations in an exam triggered my emotions to a point where I needed external help to deal with them,” she said. Her experience is also backed by others. 

“I was going through a sudden change in my relationship life and got extremely emotional from the break-up,” said Junyi Tang, a NYUSH sophomore majoring in business and finance.

Students reflected that these specific difficulties were well taken care of through the counseling sessions. “The counselor offered me emotional support by providing empathy and being a listener to my problem”, said Tianqi. 

“I also got strategic suggestions on both practical and awareness levels. These either provided me with new perspectives or helped me realize that I had a back-up plan even in the worst case,” she added.

However, the needs of students often go beyond seeking solutions for some particular reality challenges. Oftentimes, students can also have a sense of some deeper cognition or personality problem which could be the source of the various problems they are experiencing in real life. And the recommendations they received varied from person to person.

Tianqi said that her conversation with the counselor “never leveled up to any potential personality problem,” even though she knew that there could be a deeper source for the emotional shocks that took her to counseling. 

“I feel that the academic pressure could actually be caused by my intentions to compare with other people, and there should be reasons for my poor sleeping situation that contributed much to the roommate problem. I was hoping that the sessions would help me identify these problems and work on them,” she explained.

Junyi had a relatively different experience. He approached the counselor with his self-identified personality problems but didn’t get to deal with them efficiently enough during counseling sessions.

“I was reflecting on my broken relationships and noticed that I didn’t have much motivation for my life,” he said. “I was passively accepting things or people that came into my life, without thinking about whether I really want them. This very thought was suffocating me,” Junyi explained. “The counseling sessions did help me regain my mental stability, but that specific problem didn’t get to be improved much, and I am still dealing with it internally from day to day.”

On the other hand, there are instances of students exploring and improving their deeper mental issues with the help of university counseling support. Ivana Li, a NYUSH sophomore majoring in data science, shared her experience. 

“I went there to seek solutions for my difficulties with group work. I went to the counselor with a very specific problem that I wanted to address. And the conversation helped me identify a deeper source of my hard times, a cognition disorder problem that I developed throughout my growth,” she said. 

“Being aware of this deeper problem has made the specific difficulties make sense to me. I had a better picture of how to improve my situation and became less stressed.”

Ivana also pinpointed the reason for her successful experience with the counselor. “I think one’s experience could be strongly impacted by their interaction with a specific counselor. My suggestion is to never hesitate to ask for a change in a counselor appointment. It is really important to work on self-development with a counselor that fits your style of thinking and communicating,” she said.

However, being able to detect when changes are needed is not easy for those who have little previous counseling experience before they deal with the university’s counselors. In response to Ivana’s suggestions, Junyi said that “having few instructions and experiences about how to interact with counselors make it hard for me to distinguish between efficient and inefficient sessions. I couldn’t tell whether I should change my appointment or not.”

The Health and Wellness center does provide supplemental events and services apart from the essential counseling services. Its official website mentions two other services. 

Guided meditation exercises focus on helping students learn new ways to “manage the stressors and use relaxation and mindfulness skills as coping strategies.” 

And the Lunch and Learn Sessions help to “introduce students to general health knowledge and encourage them to participate in activities which promote personal development and self-care.”

Even though these services also provide guidance about students’ self-development processes, none of them educate students enough about how to discover their potential issues and to present them to counselors for further solution.

Students consider the counseling service as an essential external help that they can turn to for the deeper mental issues that are beyond their knowledge. They seek guidance from such a service to make progress in their self-development path. Their expectations of such a university resource go beyond providing emotional support for surface difficulties.

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