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OCCS on looking after the Lasallian community’s mental health

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Recent events have called for a stronger attention on the services being offered by the Office of Counseling and Career Services (OCCS). For the past years, the office has welcomed various members of the Lasallian community for counseling sessions and psychological testing. Aside from the current mechanisms in place to address mental health issues, the OCCS has also been developing initiatives that will further address challenges related to such issues.

“[The] Lasallian community should give importance to counseling services. We here in OCCS train our counselors how to best serve our students. Even the way we conceptualize clients’ problems, we’re using evidence-based practice. Kung ano problema mo, pag-aaralan namin ‘yan and we will try to address your problem by giving you skills, techniques, or [whatever] treatment which we believe is effective for you,” explains OCCS Director Dr. Aime Guarino.

With the counseling programs of OCCS geared towards assisting students who have difficulties in terms of self-esteem, communication, assertion, academics, and other responsibilities, Dr. Guarino claims that counseling sessions are never a “one shot deal.” According to her, students must be patient enough to undergo a series of consultations, considering that these sessions consist of very delicate processes. She further mentions that counseling sessions are not only for those who are diagnosed with mental illnesses, suggesting that everyone is free to undergo a session.

The counseling sessions, however, are just one of several programs of OCCS that advocate and promote the mental health of students and the rest of the Lasallian community. In an interview with The LaSallian, Dr. Guarino narrates the challenges, roles, and developments of OCCS with regard to taking care of the Lasallian community’s mental health.

New initiatives underway

Freshmen students are required to enroll in SAS1000, a course on personality assessment. “That’s to help you to be mentally healthy. [After] testing, there’s one more session,” Dr. Guarino narrates. “Your test result is interpreted to you. And then after that we are trying to spot if there are difficulties so that we will follow up another session to
help you.”

Currently, Dr. Guarino reveals that the OCCS is developing SAS2000, which is a follow-up personality assessment, and SAS3000, which focuses on students’ career and job placement. “These are all to help our students, [so that] lalabas kayo na you are really equipped. Ito, strategic planning na ito. Iit came from our] research on mental health literacy,” she shares.

The SAS2000 and SAS3000 will be required to take. As of press time, the OCCS is still in the process of proposing the two new programs to the Academics Council. Dr. Guarino states her hope that the students would appreciate it, considering that they will also be free of charge. She adds that the new programs will ensure that the OCCS will be able to personally meet with the students not just during the freshman year, but throughout their stay in the University.

With regard to how effective the publicity of the programs of her office are, Dr. Guarino shares that they have been spreading posters within the campus. “We have seven different posters spread all throughout the University—in bulletin boards, in offices of colleges, in social media, help desk, and there are a lot more,” shares Dr. Guarino. The posters serve as a campaign to inform students to come to the OCCS if they
have concerns.

Spotting distressed peers

The OCCS, given its limitations, plans to train the Lasallian community in terms of “spotting” their peers who may possibly be experiencing mental distress. “Faculty and students, hanggang spotting lang sila at saka referral, but it’s good if they know how to spot. We have a lot of students coming here, and we do face-to-face counseling sessions with them. Wala kami sa classroom na nakikita how the students behave. Sino nandun? Peers and faculty members,” Dr. Guarino expresses.

There is also the challenge that some students who are referred to the OCCS decline to undergo counseling sessions. Dr. Guarino suggests that if there is self-harm involved, the student will really need to be directed to the OCCS. On the other hand, if there is no self-harm involved, Dr. Guarino says that the student no longer needs to undergo sessions.

“Kaya niya ‘yan,” she adds. “Huwag mong pilitin. Pero pag magsabi sa iyo na, you know, I really have a lot of thoughts on killing myself, tell us na kaagad, kasi we want to protect your friend. Kahit thought lang ‘yan, puwedeng matuloy, puwedeng hindi.”

As of press time, the OCCS is planning to hold a DLSU town hall meeting which will focus on discussing how to spot distressed peers and what to do during the referral process. They are also coordinating with the deans, vice deans, and chairpersons of the various departments. After the proposed town hall meeting, she suggests that the OCCS Counselors can also go to the various departments to talk to the faculty members.

Issues, complaints

Dr. Guarino discloses that her office is aware of the recent posts in social media where some DLSU students complain about their experiences with some of the OCCS counselors. One of the students mentioned that the session felt more like an interrogation. Another said that the students are not being given priority by the counselors.

Dr. Guarino clarifies that the counselors will be subject to availability, considering that they may be on leave or are attending to other important matters. “We have appointment calendars [for] all our counselors. So you will come and set your appointment. If the counselor said meron siyang gagawin at wala siya sa office, bibigay niya yung other dates, schedule niya na open,” she explains.

Every day, there is also a “counselor of the day” who will be free to accommodate any student who has concerns. “So kada punta ninyo, kahit hindi kayo naka-schedule, as long as it’s immediate, meron mag-attend sa inyo, kasi every day meron kaming counselor of the day,” Dr. Guarino states.
She believes that there was just a simple misconception on the part of the students, and that the schedules of the counselors won’t always permit them to handle counseling sessions. However, she assures the students that the counselor of the day will be present, even in the event that the chosen counselor of the student is not available.

Dr. Guarino also assures the students that the OCCS is currently looking into the concerns. According to her, they are discussing ways on how to respond to the students such that the response will be well-received. “Actually you (students) are our priority. Kasi kayo yung client namin. And we want you to be happy, to be psychologically well,” she maintains.

USG’s efforts

The University Student Government Legislative Assembly (LA), through a resolution calling for the implementation of a Comprehensive Mental Health Act in DLSU, proposed several solutions with regard to mental health issues in campus. The resolution was made with the help of the Vice Chancellor for Administration, Psychology Department, and OCCS.

Among the solutions proposed were giving students with mental health conditions the right to whom they can disclose their condition, providing effective accommodations, being considerate to their grades, developing support groups, creating an online mental health platform, introducing training programs for faculty and staff, and including a mandatory psychological and risk assessment during the undergraduate health examination.

With the challenge of monitoring the mental health of the Lasallian community, the OCCS will need the help of various sectors in the University. Dr. Guarino hopes to give the impression that the they are always there for the students. Whether the students’ problems involve mental disorders, career, academics, adjustment, or even romantic relationships, she assures that the OCCS will be there for them.

By Mikhaela Felix

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