FAU’s counseling center cares, wants to help students

Upon entering Room 229 in the Student Services Building, one will not find long leather sofas or hypnotic devices, only smiling faces and people eager to help.

Since its inception nearly 30 years ago, the Counseling Center at Florida Atlantic University has set out to help students function to the best of their abilities in classroom and social settings.

With a staff of two psychologists, seven full-time counselors, and several master’s-level interns, the Counseling Center is available to help students cope with a wide range of problems. The center offers individual as well as group counseling.

In addition to the center on the Boca Raton campus, there are satellite centers on the Davie and Jupiter campuses.

So what are the main issues students are dealing with? Dr. Barry Gregory, the center’s assistant director and substance abuse psychologist, says one issue that many students struggle with is the transition from high school to college because “students arrive with great expectation. They sort of have these myths…fantasies.”

Many students don’t realize that college is not all about big parties and fraternities, he says, and once they realize all the hard work required, it is difficult for some of them to make the transition.

Most of the issues students are struggling with – whether they involve transitions, relationships, depression, or drug abuse – tie into a lack of “coping skills,” Dr. Gregory observes. “What’s lacking for most people is that they don’t know how to navigate the challenges in their lives.”

During the fall semester, in addition to the psychologists and counselors available to assist students, Dr. Gregory began a peer-counseling program to further help students to work through problems. With counseling, he explains, a message’s vehicle is just as important as the message itself.

Dr. Gregory notes that peers have been shown to have a tremendous effect on one another, and psychologists and counselors are always looking for the best way for students to hear the message.

He jokingly admits, “Students don’t always want to hear [the message] from an old bald guy like me. They might want to hear it from their friends, from their peers.”

The peer counselors are being trained primarily in a substance abuse prevention model, but Dr. Gregory believes that the skills needed to deal with substance abuse are the same as those needed to deal with many of the other issues. It all ties into providing students with the necessary “coping skill,” he says.

Helen Cantor, executive office manager, believes the center has been “extremely” successful. Cantor, who has been with the center for eight years, estimates that the staff sees more than 1,200 students a month.

Dr. Gregory says that the number of students seeking counseling is growing faster than the university’s enrollment. As a result, the center is considering expansion, he says.

Even with the growth in its use, Dr. Gregory says, there is need for more awareness of the center and its services. Outreach, orientations, and classroom appearances are ways in which the Counseling Center staff is trying to bring greater awareness of its facilities and services to the university community.

Dr. Gregory says the center wants students to be aware that there is someone to help them work through any issues they might be dealing with and that they are not alone.

In today’s disconnected society, Dr. Gregory says, it is easy for people to feel alone and isolated. The Counseling Center’s staff, he says, wants students to know “that we care.”