As new and returning students transition from summer back to school at Springfield College, a dedicated team of professionals works behind the scenes to help those struggling to get back on their feet.
Located in the Towne Student Health Center, the Counseling Center is a free service that strictly serves undergraduate and graduate students’ needs.
“My whole purpose is to meet with students who are struggling,” Associate Director Ann Whitall said.
In the words of Associate Director Gary Enright, the center is a “user-friendly” service that students can use at any time throughout the school year.
“College counseling centers provide…high-quality services for anybody experiencing any psychological or emotional problems,” Enright said.
According to Enright and the Springfield College website, the center addresses issues such as anxiety, loneliness, depression, alcohol or drug related problems, relationship conflicts, transition issues, poor academic performance, eating disorders, issues of sexual identity, unexpected pregnancy, coping with a loss and suicidal thoughts.
“There’s quite a range of what we will see,” Enright said.
The center’s staff currently consists of four graduate associates, Nicole Bihler, Josh Cohen, Kasey Pendexter and Allison Peters; Counselor Elizabeth Donahue; and Associate Directors Gary Enright and Ann Whitall.
Whitall, who has been working at Springfield College for 25 years, will be leaving at the end of the month, but the center is hiring an additional counselor for the year “to serve the students’ needs,” in the words of 18-year veteran Enright, who also attended the college as both an undergraduate and graduate student.
They are also currently looking for a replacement for former director Dick Whiting, who retired at the end of last school year after serving for 40 years.
Although they are in a transition process, the center remains well equipped to lend a helping hand to students in need.
“We’ve been a well-oiled machine for years and years,” Whitall said.
“Whenever someone calls…they’re seen usually the same day.” Enright added. “Very rarely does someone have to wait until the next day.”
According to Enright, the counselors work from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Although they recommend that students make an appointment, in certain situations, walk-ins are seen right away.
Although their offices are not open for appointments at nights or on weekends, they still serve the campus.
“There’s someone on call all the time,” Enright said. “We try to be highly visible.”
The Office of Housing and Residence Life, Department of Public Safety and/or the Dean of Students Office contact the Counseling Center staff when necessary if the counselors’ office is already closed.
Since they are a free service provided by the college, students can have as many sessions as they desire. Also, confidentiality is guaranteed except in a few serious circumstances, including the danger of hurting oneself or others, child abuse, by court order or if the counselors ask for advice in handling a certain case amongst themselves.
The staff at the Counseling Center also does not just wait for students to come to their office. According to Whitall, they do a lot of work with Resident Directors and Assistants, New Student Orientation leaders, Pre-Camp leaders and even other faculty through various workshops and programs.
They also take the initiative when situations arise on campus, such as the recent series of tragic events.
“We’ve reached out to people that have been affected,” Enright said. “People that are closer to the situation, we want to make sure they know who we are.”
The center also relies on contributions and referrals from faculty and students to help in their mission.
“People can be instrumental in getting someone else here,” Enright said. “Our best referral is from another student.”
According to Enright, approximately 25 percent of a graduating class will visit the Counseling Center at least once during their stay at Springfield College.
“We pride ourselves on having a good reputation,” Enright said. “There’s a pureness about these kinds of relationships.
“The best compliment they [students] can pay me is to say, ‘Can I come back next week?’”
Chances are the answer will be yes.
Joe Brown may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org