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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Counseling center to launch new evening discussion program

Published: September 28, 2012
Section: Featured, News

The Psychological Counseling Center is launching a new program of group talks this semester called “Brandeis at Night,” seeking to provoke community discussions about stress, mental health and available resources on campus.

Cate Dooley, a part-time psychotherapist and spear-header of the Brandeis at Night program, hopes that the sessions will encourage more students to visit the counseling center.

Dooley believes that while the current support system is effective, it would be more effective if students came earlier and more often. Often, students wait until their conditions are far beyond safe. This is due, Dooley said, to college students, and the entire culture’s expectations. “What’s happening at colleges is happening culturally,” she said.

“There has been more and more distressed and stress demonstrated,” Dooley said in an interview this week. “The students are showing more stress, our culture is showing more stress. It’s not unique to Brandeis or to students. If Brandeis is willing to take the challenge and address it, that’s great.”

She feels that administrators have taken on a greater charge when it comes to mental health. Still, Dooley feels that the castle-on-the-hill concept of Mailman needs to change. She has always pushed for more integration, especially after the most-recent tragedy on campus.

President Fred Lawrence commented on the mental health situation in an interview earlier this month and explained the need to review current support systems and resources.

“I can tell you, as you probably know, that there is a regular process in student affairs of reviewing students in need and students who we think are at risk, not just as serious as suicide but obviously that,” Lawrence said. “What makes all of this awkward is that there are a lot of good stories that one could tell, but can’t tell for privacy reasons, for legal reasons, for ethical reasons.”

Dooley discussed the need for broad support from student teams and clubs.

“We really need the support of the whole campus,” she said. “We really need the support of the clubs, any of the sororities, fraternities, the teams even, student life and professors.”

Dooley explained that one of the program’s goals is to bring in students who feel comfortable discussing a range of issues, including relationships and academic or social pressure.

“At this point, we need to do whatever we can to get students who are in need, to let them know that there’s a place they can come to talk. And it doesn’t have to be to talk about their deep, dark secrets, it can be to talk about relaxation, you can talk about relationships,” Dooley said.

The programs would include group discussions, as well as films and videos, and TEDtalk recommendations. She hopes that CAs, teams and fraternities will decide to encourage people to come as a group, in order to learn about different personality types, cultural differences, eating disorders (for which Dooley has run a successful recovery group for a number of years).

“The night program will focus on prevention and wellness by offering educational groups and workshops regarding self-care, stress management, communication skills, building a balanced lifestyle, time management, coping with stressful situations, navigating the ebb and flow of relationship, emotional and relational intelligence and so on,” she said.

Following the suicide on campus earlier this month, where the counseling center held emergency extended hours in the evening, came the idea to begin nighttime group programs.

“Having Brandeis Nights is an attempt to open our doors at night and offer everything possible that could pull in any single stragglers that could feel disconnected or even isolated, even out of curiosity,” Dooley said. “There might be some topic out of many that would bring someone in here, and even just to become familiar with the place.”

At the moment, many of Mailman’s patients come from voluntary walk-ins looking for help, or because roommates, friends and faculty compel a student to go.

“Usually friends, roommates, suitemates will usually talk to them and walk them down. Or sometimes someone from student life will walk them down. Or a professor, I’ve even had professors call,” Dooley said. “If there’s any concern on the part of anyone on staff, the athletics, the student life, professors, I’ve dealt with everybody.”

The process for emergencies is quick, Dooley says, and she deals with multiple instances each week.

“If they call, they’re told to come on over, and if it’s an emergency situation they will be seen that day,” Dooley said. “If they can wait a week, they’ll be seen within a week, if they can wait two weeks, they’ll be seen within two weeks.”

Students fill out a questionnaire and Mailman staff analyzes whether the situation is dire: “We have a form that gives us information. Why are they here? What’s their chief complaint and do they have suicidal ideation? Depression? They say whether it’s emergent or not, whether it’s critical they be seen within the day, or not. Whether they can wait 24 hours, 48 hours, whether they can wait a week, they check that off.”

“We’ll do an intake that is 45 to 50 minutes long, and that person gets assigned.”

When asked if students may feel unwilling to come to Mailman because they fear being hospitalized, Dooley says that while hospitalizations do happen, they aren’t needless and are only used when the situation requires it.

“I think students who come in for an emergency are worried enough about themselves. If someone wants to be seen on this day, I think they’re feeling out of control, and maybe they need to go to the hospital,” said Dooley, “And that’s good that they come down here.”

“And we get complaints. People will complain that we send people off to the hospital, but if someone comes in and there is a lot of suicidal thinking or even a plan, or they are feeling unsafe and are going to hurt themselves, or look psychotic in their thinking and talking, they need to go to the hospital rather than go back to their dorm and have their roommate or suitemates deal with it.”

Dooley explained the system used for night hours: A doctor is on call 24/7 during the hours Mailman is closed. Students call the center and are given an on-call number, which goes to a beeper and the on-call doctor calls back.

She hopes the new Brandeis at Night program will not only open the doors to students who find themselves in crisis, but also to their friends who might need advice on how to handle situations outside of the center.

Dooley recognizes that in cases like this, early treatment is most effective. Students who wait until the tipping point, she said, could be helped far earlier.

“I think they want to come,” said Dooley, when asked why students don’t come earlier and more often, “but their lives are so busy. “I think it’s part of this whole cultural expectation to be everything … Students are really overextended.”

“The problem is getting students here. Because I can arrange, and we can arrange to have these things going on at night, but I have had the experience of having one, two, three people show up,” Dooley said.

“They might not come to say they need to be seen today, but they might come to something like this,” she added.