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Office of Counseling and Career Services: Willful help or False hope?

It has been known as the pulpit of service aimed at cultivating an atmosphere of positivity. The Office of Counseling and Career Services otherwise known as the OCCS, renders its services to those who are in need of support. The OCCS is managed by professional counselors to help monitor student performance and find effective solutions to ensure positive improvement.

But what seems apparent does not immediately make it true or valid. Certain systems may evoke a pristine surface that cannot quite hide discrepancies—whether big or small. A myriad of students has bravely come out and shared their negative experiences with the OCCS and how the ‘will to help’ splashed on posters and hung on hallways may just be another ad. Some have gone as far as not recommending the OCCS to other students.

 

S.O.S

We all raise the white flag at times especially when the struggle is too much to bear; most of all, when we see others struggling as well. It is human nature to protect others as well as oneself. Reggie* saw someone being bullied, and she approached OCCS to seek help and advice with her feelings of anxiety and sadness. However, things took a wrong turn when Reggie shared to her counselor her feelings of sadness and anxiety from seeing a person with autism get bullied. She says her counselor replied with “Eh, why are you sad hindi ka naman binubully so why are you affected?’” Reggie’s experience led her to thoughts that were unsavory at best regarding their service.

(Why are you sad when you aren’t the one being bullied? Why are you affected?)

A single experience shouldn’t define an institution no more as a single incident in a company should be its downfall. Institutions are comprised of people, and people make mistakes unintentionally. Although it is no excuse for the counselor’s actions and the rejection Reggie felt after she bared her vulnerabilities to the counselor; that one isolated experience cannot cast the whole department in a bad light.

However, this wasn’t an isolated incident—at least not according to the people who took to social media to report their grievances with the OCCS. According to them, some counselors do have a tendency to make students feel as though their problems are unimportant. Trina* has experienced this first hand. “They referred me to a crisis counselor. He was texting while I was having a full-blown panic attack,” she recounts, adding that later in their session the counselor even “stepped outside to make a call.”

Elena* sought out knowing that school services included free counseling. The OCCS welcomed Elena; unfortunately, she had negative experiences with the office, describing the counselor she was assigned to as “unqualified” and “not equipped” to deal with her case. The common thread in all these stories is that going seeking help from the OCCS often had them leaving their sessions feeling worse than they’d been when they first went in looking for help. No matter the OCCS’s intention, it can’t be denied that these cases could have definitely been handled better.

Faced with all these negative feedback from social media and from students who have relayed their stories through friends, writers from The LaSallian sat down with the director of the OCCS herself, Dr. Aimee Guarino.

 

 

The other side of the trench

Dr. Guarino was, as to be expected, disheartened by the news that so many students were reporting negative experiences with the OCCS. She notes that she hopes students in need of guidance still feel as though the OCCS is there for them, in spite of the negative feedback surfacing on social media, and that they “come and avail of our services” and not let one bad encounter discredit the office in its entirety.

While clearly upset that people are making claims against her department, Dr. Guarino says “I cannot immediately react [to the negative posts on social media] because I need to know the context first.” What were the events that led to counselors treating students this way, or to the students perceiving counselors as uncaring? “When you read a post on social media, quote na lang siya,” Dr. Guarino adds, explaining that she believes thing posted on the internet don’t always tell the whole story.

(When you read a post on social media, it’s just a quote.)

Dr. Guarino also notes that she’s surprised by the sheer number of allegations against the OCCS. She shares that she’s grown accustomed to parents and students alike telling her about how the OCCS has helped them cope with problems, and that the surveys given out by the department always indicated a high degree of satisfaction. “Our counselors are usually evaluated with ‘outstanding performance’ by students, so perhaps there are just a few who are dissatisfied,” she suggests, adding that “there are people who are happy with us, but they just don’t go on social media.”

Lastly, the OCCS director rounds up her response with a reminder that there is someone students can confide in when facing problems with her department: Dr. Guarino herself. “They can go to me for complaints, so I can talk to their counselor, and they can improve their relationship kasi nandito ako for that,” she states. The OCCS congregates and holds “learning sessions” every Thursday, in a bid to improve their skills and try to learn how to help as many students as they can. Dr. Guarino says that if she only knew what the problems were, these issues would be discussed during their weekly learning sessions, and every measure would be taken to see to it that students are once again happy with their counselors.

(They can go to me for complaints, and they can improve their relationship because I am here for that.)

 

Help was sought, and help was given

There are three sides to truth—my side, your side, and the objective truth. We, as infallible human beings, may not always get to the objective truth concerning issues wherein it makes that particular task difficult. However, hearing two sides to the story is better than knowing one and letting the other party fend for themselves against an onslaught of biased statements.

Although some students’ experiences were negative when it comes to OCCS, there were other students that sought help from them, and received it warmly. Take for example David*, when asked why he came to the OCCS in the first place, he answered, “I went to see OCCS because I felt like it was a safe zone inside the school, and I saw it as a place where I can be myself without feeling shy or embarrassed by different factors.” His OCCS experience was a positive one as he claims that they gave him hope.

Crissa Briones (IV, BS-FIN) recounted her story, “One of my notable experiences probably is that I had to go through different counselors because students are assigned to a counselor depending on what college you are, and if you are a scholar. It made me feel a bit uncomfortable, but when I met my latest counselor, I managed to tell her all that I was going through. Because of that, she encouraged me to tell my parents about the struggles I am having. My counselor talked to my mom about how I feel, and my counselor also suggested me to go to a psychiatrist to treat me since it was a severe case.” Since going to her psychiatrist and getting treatment, she’s been feeling much better. Her monthly visits to her counselor also contribute to the change her family and friends have noticed with her.

Hearing accounts like these and seeing them alongside negative experiences paints a picture shrouded more in gray than black and white. Although negative accounts do exist, there are still students who benefited from the service the OCCS provides. As a community, we need to talk more about mental health and destigmatize the conversation. The OCCS is doing a service but that doesn’t exempt it from the times it falters; we can always do more and do better by our fellow people. We must remember to dig deep into the situation in its entirety, because there is always something we don’t see at first glance.

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