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PCC steps up to accommodate students’ needs

By Emily Sorkin Smith

Section: Hoot Scoops

March 27, 2015

Brandeis’ Psychological Counseling Center (PCC) is a vital part of the Brandeis community, a place where students, faculty and staff can go to receive counseling and address any mental health concerns they may have. The PCC has been undergoing changes and restructuring since the beginning of the academic year. Staff members have been working to combat stress among students, a concern that the recent suicides at MIT have shed more light on. In order to ensure that the needs of students are being met, the PCC is conducting a survey and holding workshops and other events. However, being able to adequately meet the demands of the students it serves remains a long process for the PCC.

The PCC has been focusing their efforts on stress and anxiety in the student population, providing a variety of workshops and events that aim to reduce stress or educate students on healthy ways to deal with stress. Dr. Joy Von Steiger, senior associate director and clinical director of the PCC spoke about the center’s efforts in an email to The Brandeis Hoot: “We are quite concerned about the level of stress that Brandeis students experience and how the university is helping to support students in their academic endeavors.” She said that the center is working to reduce students’ feelings of isolation as they deal with stress, anxiety and depression. To address student concerns, the PCC also provides individual therapy and group therapy sessions with counselors.

Student stress levels have long been a topic of concern, but colleges and mental health professionals are increasingly worried following the recent suicides of students at MIT. In March alone, two students at MIT committed suicide, totaling four students throughout the course of this year. These events have shocked the MIT community and the communities at colleges around the country, and caused the PCC to place even greater importance on its stress-busting events. “We are very disturbed whenever we hear about a suicide on a neighboring campus and understand that it is difficult for everyone, students, staff and faculty, when we hear in the news that a young person or faculty member has taken their life,” Von Steiger told The Hoot. They recently held a “Pizza and Puppies” event, where therapy dogs and students could interact to provide relaxation and comfort to students during midterms.

The center has created a new event called “Healing HeArts” to allow students “an opportunity to share with the community the diverse expressions of growth, change and mental health/illness and will help to reduce the stigma of mental health care and the range of the human emotional experience,” according to Von Steiger. It allows students to present, through various media of art, their thoughts on the meaning of mental health. Von Steiger told The Hoot that she hopes it will become an annual event.

Many new “wellness workshops” are being offered to the community. The workshops are held at the PCC or other on-campus sites and can be tailored to the needs of a particular group. They range in topic from “Safety with Drugs and Alcohol” to “Racism in the Classroom.” In addition to the workshops, the PCC offers group therapy sessions, most of which are held weekly. In total, the PCC offers 17 groups and 12 workshops. Some of these workshops require that students meet with a counselor prior to joining.

The PCC is working hard to meet the changing needs of Brandeis students, ensuring that people find services that fit their needs. The PCC has already made some changes to its programming and overall system this year in order to better serve its students. “We are creatively engaging in a process of discerning how to address the needs of as many students as possible with a wide range of services.” Von Steiger said. “We have met with student groups, met with staff and faculty from across the campus and are in the process of designing a survey that we hope students will respond to that will help us to address the needs of students as they see them.”

One student, who asked that his name not be printed, has gone to the PCC since the beginning of the year and feels that the changes are beneficial. He told The Hoot, “When I first called the PCC, it was during their management reassignment at the beginning of the year. For that reason, it took two weeks [for them to see me] from the beginning of the semester.” However, he expressed a sense that this is not a typical experience. He explained that despite the initial waiting period, his overall experience has been very positive, saying, “I would not be able to have done so well at college so far without their help”.

Though the PCC has made a significant amount of progress over the course of the year, there is still room for improvement. Students generally have to wait about a week from their initial visit until they can have their first session. Students can change counselors if they feel that unhappy with the match, though some find that process awkward or uncomfortable. Other students have complained about the tight time constraints therapists place on sessions. The PCC provides every student with 12 free sessions per year, but after that, students must pay for one-on-one counseling sessions. Psychiatric visits, however, are billed starting from the first visit. This can be a problem for students who require meeting with a psychiatrist or need more than the initial 12 sessions, but for whatever reason are unable to afford the expense.

According to the PCC’s website, around 20 percent of Brandeis students use the center every academic year. The PCC is located in the Mailman building, adjacent to Public Safety and the Health Center.

The PCC, in conjunction with Newton-Wellesley Hospital, is available 24 hours a day for emergency services. Their emergency services send an officer from Public Safety as well as BEMCo.

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