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Kicking the stigma of counseling on campus

kate crawford

New UWA counselor Kate Crawford looks to help students find balance, focus in life, classes, work

Story: Phillip Tutor  |  Photo: Betsy Compton

 

Kate Crawford , the new coordinator of Counseling Services at the University of West Alabama, has arrived in Livingston at a time when campus counselors may have never been more indispensable.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, a national survey from the Association for University and College Counseling Directors reported that demand for their services had risen for 87 percent of that organization’s members in the previous year. On average, counselors had experienced 12 percent increases in appointments made and the number of students they assisted, the survey reported.

Additionally, counseling services on average had seen 13 percent of students at those directors’ schools. Two years later, the pandemic’s effects on many aspects of students’ lives have only heightened the vital function counselors play.

“I’ve seen a lot of clients inside and outside of this role who have not socialized in a year,” Crawford said. “Their social skills are a little bit lacking, they don't feel comfortable having the conversations they used to, they are more anxious in crowds and in public because they haven't practiced for a whole year.

“And a lot of the previous mental-health issues have gotten exacerbated by being alone, because isolation is pretty awful for anybody. We’re not meant to be isolated.”

Crawford, hired following the retirement of Dr. Jane Coleman, holds two degrees from the University of Alabama and is licensed as a professional counselor and a supervising professional counselor. She has experience in a variety of counseling fields -- substance abuse, drug rehabilitation, domestic violence and sexual assault, among others -- and continues to see patients in her private practice, as well.

At UWA, Crawford sees opportunities to provide students, faculty and staff with confidential counseling services, as well as becoming a familiar campus figure in hopes of destigmatizing the need for mental health assistance.

Outreach, she says, is just as important as the counseling.

“I think college campuses are trying to get counseling out of the closed-door office,” Crawford said. “They want to get out into the university and talk about mental health and (stage) events that focus on being healthy mentally and not just physically. And I think that’s relatively new.”

Though symptoms of anxiety and depression are common among students who seek counseling, the 2019 survey said, the diversity of student populations forces counselors to treat a wide range of issues that are hardly uniform. 

In her role at UWA, Crawford said she may see first-generation students struggling with the college experience; freshmen who’ve never lived apart from their parents; seniors fretting about leaving the college “bubble;” and others who have real-world concerns unrelated to academics or campus life.

The clients who walk through the doors of campus counselors, she explained, are in essence no different than those who see patients in private practices or clinical settings. With them they may bring concerns about depression, anxiety, sexual assault or harrasment, domestic violence, toxic relationships and eating disorders.

Students who may need medications would be referred to off-campus doctors or psychiatrists, Crawford said. Students whose needs are spiritual-based would be referred to a pastor or priest.

Her goal as UWA’s coordinator of Counseling Services is to seek a balance -- half of her time spent in confidential sessions with clients, and the other half becoming a common sight on campus.

“I think that helps with the stigma (of mental health), too,” Crawford said. “I’m not some stranger behind a door, that if you walk into a counselor’s door, people know something is wrong with you. I don’t want that to be case. I want my door to be open and you can go in and out. I want to be on campus and be a familiar face.”

UWA’s Counseling Services office is in Foust Hall and is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Appointments are free. To schedule one, call (205) 652-3651, or email Crawford at kcrawford@uwa.edu.