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Rensselaer Counseling Service helps students with academics, social life

RPI psychologist discusses common issues faced by students, benefits from counseling

It is a common misconception to think that only seriously ill people need counseling. Studies have shown that over 80 percent of people can benefit from counseling at some point in their lives. People come in to talk to a counselor because they are having some problems in their lives for which they are seeking help in finding resolution. Some of the types of problems presented by students coming to the Rensselaer Counseling Service include low self confidence or self esteem; help with finding or losing a relationship; understanding puzzling emotional states; self defeating behaviors; alcohol and drug abuse; poor grades; anxiety; eating disorders; depression and/or suicidal thoughts or ideas; difficulty making decisions; lack of purpose and life direction; gender identity issues; family problems or conflict; and low motivation.

A spring 2008 survey by the The American College Health Association obtained data from 80,121 randomly selected students from 106 campuses. When students were asked about health related issues that negatively impacted on their academic performance, eight out of the top 10 were issues that are dealt with at a college counseling service. These included stress, sleep difficulties, concern for a troubled friend or family member, excessive internet use/computer games, depression/anxiety/seasonal affective disorder, relationship difficulty, death of a friend or family member, and alcohol use.

While these very common issues of adjustment to college life are dealt with at the Rensselaer Counseling Service, we are also available for students who have major mental health disorders. It has been estimated that at least 25 percent of Americans fall into this category.

The goals of counseling include helping one learn about their maladaptive behavioral habits, self-defeating thoughts, and disruptive feelings that interfere with adjusting to life, and to make the changes needed to function and feel better. Counseling is an on-going collaborative process in which the student and counselor jointly define the goals. With the help of a caring, attentive counselor, the student works towards making the changes that will achieve these goals. The services of the Rensselaer Counseling Service are in high demand, with about 15 percent of the student population being seen each year. For this reason services are provided on a short term basis, averaging about six sessions a semester. In addition to providing individual and couple’s counseling, there is a group that meets weekly to work on social anxiety. In case of after-hours emergencies, an on call counselor can be reached any time of day or night by calling Public Safety at 276-6611.

Confidentiality is an important aspect of the counseling relationship. Students’ confidentiality is strictly maintained except in the following situations: when a student presents a clear and present danger to themself or to another person; when there is substantial likelihood that a student will, in the near future, suffer serious harm due to lack of capacity to protect themselves from harm or provide for their basic needs; when there is suspicion of child abuse or elder abuse; and lastly in the event of a lawsuit in which records are subpoenaed. Also, parents of a student under the age of 18 would need to be informed the student is receiving counseling unless the student indicates in writing he/she is voluntarily seeking counseling, indicates that he/she does not want the parents informed, and the counselor believes it would be detrimental to the counseling process to inform the parents.

A review of 3,000 studies and 300 summaries of studies have indicated that counseling/psychotherapy produces consistent and positive effects. Available data suggests that 79 percent of clients who seek treatment are better off than clients who do not seek treatment (The Effectiveness of Psychotherapy: What Research Tells Us; Henny Westra, Ph.D.; findapsychologist.org). Closer to home, anonymous satisfaction surveys of students seen at the Rensselaer Counseling Service over recent years revealed that between 90 to 100 percent of the students responding felt that their concerns were addressed in counseling, and/or stated they were satisfied with their experience with the Counseling Service. In another survey given to students seen at the Counseling Service in the spring 2009 semester the students were asked to rate the degree of positive impact counseling had on them. It was found that there was a statistically significant positive correlation between the number of times a student was seen at the Counseling Service and the degree to which the students found that the counseling had a positive impact on them, suggesting that students will receive more of a benefit from the counseling process if they stick with the process rather than just dropping in once or twice.

The Counseling Service is located in suite 4100 of Academy Hall, and is part of the Health Center. It is staffed by six highly experienced clinicians with many years of experience working with college students. The director is a psychiatrist (Dr. Ben Marte). The rest of the staff includes three psychologists (Lorna Guyett, Keith Anderson, Joe Albert) and two Licensed Clinical Social Workers (Lydia Rest, Sheryl Spencer). There is no fee for being seen at the Counseling Service, the service being covered by the student health fee. Appointments can be made by calling 276-6479. Because of the high demand for service we ask that if a student cannot keep an appointment they call as soon as possible to cancel so that another student can use the time.