Parkland offers personal counseling alongside academic advising

Matt Moss

Editor

Parkland’s Counseling and Advising Center serves two different functions for students.

Most of the center’s educational advisers double as qualified social workers, helping to provide Parkland students with the personal counseling and mental health tools they may require to cope with life’s stresses and stay on the course of academic success.

Parkland’s student advising office has eight counselors—who are also advisers—alongside five strictly academic advisers.

Marilyn Ryan, a two-decade veteran at the advising center, is one of its eight counselors.

Ryan says at one point counseling and advising were separate functions in separate spaces. In the early 2000s the two merged to create the modern Counseling and Advising Center, streamlining the system.

She says that for a while before the merger, counselors were worried that Parkland may do away with its personal counseling function and just stick with advising, though such fears never came to fruition.

“Parkland has been great over the years recognizing that we need trained counselors to deal with the issues that students bring,” Ryan says.

With the functions combined comes the dilemma of time and resource management, between academic advising and personal counseling.

Katie Schacht is the newest counselor on Parkland’s staff, but nonetheless has been at the Counseling and Advising Center for two years. She says sometimes she struggles with balancing her work as a counselor and as an advisor.

“While our main goal is supposed to be counseling, it does tend to take a second seat to advising a lot of the time,” Schacht says. “When you try to juggle the counseling and the advising […] then you get really full, really quickly.”

She emphasized the fact that she is the staff’s newest member and highlighted her belief that other counselors may be better at managing the two jobs.

However, Ryan also says it is an odd dynamic sometimes giving one person advice on what classes they should take next semester and less than an hour later counseling another person who is dealing with intense grief or coping with depression.

While Schacht believes the number of personal counselors is at a good value, the center could do well to have more strictly academic advisers to alleviate some of the stress placed on counselors to aid with educational advising.

“I think that increasing academic advising numbers would be of help,” she says. “That would maybe take some of the pressure off counselors to fill in the gaps of advising.”

However, such a joint advising-counseling arrangement does have its advantages. Schacht says being both an academic advisor and a personal counselor permits her the ability to meet with people who may want or need counseling but are not seeking that help—or are afraid or too nervous to do so.

“I will meet with students in an advisory way […] they’ll come to an advisor to get help with class,” Schacht says. “But, they would never dream of coming to counselor. When they come to an advisor and they start talking about issues that they’re having—academic struggles that they’re having—you can hear this stuff that’s going on underneath all of that.”

Schacht places much of the blame on the modern American culture itself for fostering a fear of mental health and social issues, and making it seem as though seeking help for such issues is a negative thing, which is a major deterrent to those whom might need it.

“That’s the American society, right?” Schacht says. “It’s cultural stigma. While it’s changing, it’s still very stigmatized—anxiety, depression, all that stuff—especially in the American pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps society.”

Ryan seconds the idea of a stigma preventing people from seeking behavioral therapy, but says such stigma is not “as bad as it used to be.”

Ryan says one of the major advantages of the Counseling and Advising Center is just that—the functions are together, in the same office. Such a setup helps to undermine the idea of a perceived embarrassment for seeking personal counseling by maintaining ambiguity about why a student is there.

“Some people think it would be good to have the counseling and advising functions separate, but in a way it’s nice that everyone goes in the same waiting room, so that you don’t know […] that someone’s here just to pick up another English class or get a graduation audit, and there’s no way to tell who’s here for personal counseling,” she says.

Parkland counselors can act as an important first step in working through an issue. While their emphasis is on the short-term—semesters and academic years—they can dish out referrals to get clients in with longer-term mental health programs and professionals.

“Parkland is short-term therapy,” Schacht says. “So, if we are presented with a student that has an issue that is beyond the scope of short term—bipolar, schizophrenic, needing medication, needing significant long-term [therapy]—then we can assist them in being successful; we can be like their secondary [therapist] […] understanding that they have to have a counselor, medical doctor, or psychiatrist in the community providing long-term care.”

This does not mean Parkland’s counselors do not see clients who are suffering from more serious issues, like those who are actively suicidal or require prescription drugs.

Even though they are not equipped to deal with such issues on the long-term, no student presented with such issues should be afraid to come in and speak with Parkland’s counselors; a referral from a counselor has the capacity to greatly expedite the process of getting set up with someone that is better able to help with such issues.

Even then, Parkland counselors still meet with those who may be seeing outside mental health professionals in a secondary, more academic-oriented counseling role.

“A lot of these folks who have counselors or psychiatrists […] we encourage them to have someone here to check in with about their school stuff,” Ryan says. “So, we might not go into the issues that they are working on with their therapist, but we’re not just in an advising role either.”

Schacht believes there is a misconception among some of those who fear seeking counsel—that they must be suffering from serious mental issues to make good use of a counselor’s time. She wishes to make clear this is not the case.

“I think a lot of people assume they need to be really, really, bad-off,” Schacht says. “But, there is this misunderstanding that they’re not having bad enough issues to come and talk. […] If you’re struggling in anything, no matter the level of struggle, why ever do it alone? […] We are here to help.”

The Counseling and Advising Center is located in U267, at the southwest corner of the student services wing’s second floor. Fall semester hours are 8 a.m.-5 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, while it is open for another hour in the afternoon on Mondays and Thursdays.

The center can also be reached by phone at 217-351-2219 for academic advising, and 217-351-2461 for personal counseling. Additional information on the center can be found online at parkland.edu/counseling.