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April 1, 2020

Counseling Center Goes Virtual to Help Students Cope With a Pandemic

Josh Altman

Josh Altman, PhD, is associate director of Adelphi’s Student Counseling Center

The Student Counseling Center is tasked with promoting the mental health and wellness of our students through group programs and both one-to-one and crisis counseling.

What does a counseling center do when staff can no longer meet in person with students? You jump into the virtual world. Josh Altman, PhD, associate director of the Student Counseling Center, and Erin Furey, outreach, training and mental health promotion coordinator, explain how they’ve been meeting the challenge to, as Dr. Altman said, “build strong communities online.”

You began offering support groups the week students returned from spring break. How did you make this happen so quickly? How has it been going?

JAAbout three to four weeks ago, the counseling center began creating a business continuity plan in anticipation that this might happen. We are now operating in a fully remote capacity. Students have continued to meet with their counselors remotely and may sign up for initial counseling as well. We have “crisis” walk-ins remotely, where we direct students to counselors during business hours.

What are students’ concerns?

JA: The coronavirus is on everyone’s minds and has exacerbated some of the underlying reasons students sought counseling in the first place. Some students are stressed about working remotely for school, or they feel disconnected with peers or are having relationship issues. Some are happy to be home, but others may not want to be home.

What are you offering, in addition to one-to-one counseling, to help students cope?

JA: We’ve created numerous outreach programs, which Erin has been handling.

EF: My job on campus is engaging students, staff and faculty around wellness promotion, including trainings and workshops. I knew we needed to create space for students to build community and connect right away. I worked with Michael [Hoffner, Interfaith Center coordinator], and Scott [Zotto ’03, MSW ’09, coordinator of substance use counseling and prevention programming, Student Counseling Center]. We rolled out four programs the first week after spring break. Students join through Zoom.

What online events have you been offering?

EF: In the Coping During Crisis workshop, we acknowledge changes and difficulties. We talk about what anxiety, stress and depression look like during a crisis. Then we give students ways to start to navigate their day and cope. I’m really trying to teach students how they can care for themselves, whether that be physically, or emotionally, psychologically or spiritually, and making sure they know that there are multiple resources still available to them if they need to connect or reach out for support.

Every day at one o’clock, I hold what’s called a Chat and Chew. It’s like a virtual lunch hour to connect and build community. We do some “getting to know you” kind of activities and talk about things like how do you use music to help you get through or what are some support mechanisms you might recommend to other folks. We encourage students to wear their Adelphi gear to build spirit and connect to the community. I have now invited faculty and staff to facilitate a session. This way students are connecting to other faculty and administrators.

I am mindful of the nuances of LGBTQ+ students going back home, some potentially into uncomfortable or unsafe situations. Twice a week I facilitate a discussion group for LGBTQ+ students. It has been really powerful because it’s created an opportunity for them to meet other students they didn’t know were LGBTQ+.

Then we offer Daily Meditations, facilitated by either Jeff [Chilton, EdD, counselor at the center] or Michael [Hoffner].

What kind of feedback are you getting from students?

JA: Students have expressed gratitude, saying, “Thank you so much for making these services available during this difficult time.”

EF: I’m a data geek, so I have been sending students surveys and compiling feedback and data. Students from the Chat and Chew are saying they are meeting students they may never have come across on campus because of their schedules. A student from morning meditation said it helped her get organized through her day.

Will you be adding more programming?

EF: Yes. We’re looking into rolling out more discussion groups and programs because we want to support all types of students. We’re looking into a support group for students who have struggled with alcohol and substance abuse issues, as well as groups for students of color or those on the autism spectrum, so they can connect with others like them and know they’re not alone.

Josh, what advice do you have for readers on how we can all cope?

  • Become more comfortable with discomfort. Rather than denying anxiety and challenges, lean in. Realize we can’t fully control anything.
  • Look for moments of connection with other people. In the past, we encouraged students not to rely so much on social media. Now it can be a lifeline to friends and community. But use other methods; see classmates on Zoom or FaceTime. Social connection is key to resilience in difficult times.
  • Being at home with family members can be a source of strength but also tension. Find ways to create private spaces even in small spaces.
  • Practice self-care. Take vitamins, stay hydrated, eat healthy meals, sleep an extra hour.
  • Don’t deny what’s happening, but don’t get lost in it. Don’t read the news every second. It doesn’t add anything to emotional well-being. Stay away from fake news and clickbait. Step away from the screen and get lost in a book, class or conversation. Get outside in nature.
  • Find blessings and be grateful. Appreciate the opportunity to spend more time with family. Be thankful for small moments—having a cup of coffee, seeing spring arrive and the flowers blooming.

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Adelphi University, New York, is a highly awarded, nationally ranked, powerfully connected doctoral research university dedicated to transforming students’ lives through small classes with world-class faculty, hands-on learning and innovative ways to support academic and career success. Adelphi offers exceptional liberal arts and sciences programs and professional training, with particular strength in our Core Four—Arts and Humanities, STEM and Social Sciences, the Business and Education Professions, and Health and Wellness.

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