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Q&A: CAPS therapist talks student stress, coping

CAPS aims to help students who may be struggling with anxiety, depression, stress and other issues. | File photo/The Cougar

Whether you’re an incoming freshman or a returning student, the start of a new semester can be stressful. 

Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) offers a variety of counseling services — including individual counseling, Single Session Therapy (SST), group counseling, group therapy and workshops — to address students’ mental health needs. 

The Cougar took a moment to sit down with Janet Clemenson, LCSW. Clemenson works as a staff therapist at CAPS and serves as the coordinator for the Let’s Talk program. 

The Cougar: When should students consider coming to CAPS?

Janet Clemenson: It’s important for students to “take stock” of how they are doing on a regular basis in order to have a sense of when they might be in trouble. Being aware of one’s internal emotional experiences, especially during stressful times, is an important first step to taking care of oneself in order to stay or get back on track.  

It is more difficult to resolve a problem that is snowballing than to recognize and attend to an issue of concern before things get out of hand. Talking with a CAPS counselor, whether through Let’s Talk or CAPS walk-in appointments, can often prevent things from worsening and help a student learn effective coping skills and strategies to manage such challenges. 

Simply stated, ideally students would visit us before they are in a crisis. However, if a student is in crisis or experiencing acute distress, CAPS counselors are readily available to see them on a walk-in basis at our center, anytime during our normal business hours, Monday through Friday. 

TC: How does CAPS help incoming freshmen acclimate to the college environment?

Clemenson: Staff at CAPS work with UH students every day. We are all quite familiar with the kinds of struggles students may face during their college years and offer students support through a variety of interventions, from brief individual and group therapy to psychoeducational skills workshops.  

This kind of support can assist students in building upon their own pre-existing coping strategies, as well as provide a different kind of perspective that can help students better understand and address their emotional experiences.  

Support like this can help students recognize that they are not alone but rather share similar struggles with other students, which often results in significant relief.

TC: What can new students do to take care of their mental health, outside of counseling?

Clemenson: There are many ways students can take care of their mental health, but each student needs to determine just what activities work best for them.  

Research shows that exercise is an important aspect of mental health and well-being. This does not have to mean “hitting the gym.” For many, a quiet walk outdoors can go a long way to reducing stress in the moment.  

New students can also avoid the temptation to “over-commit.” It is strongly advised in one’s first semester to accurately assess how much time classes will demand and to engage in extracurricular activities with this in mind.  

Knowing one’s personal limits is crucial, as well as avoiding comparing oneself to others. To this end, some students find guided meditation to be helpful in managing stress and anxiety

TC: The Let’s Talk program is an informal consultation program that differs from normal CAPS counseling services. How is it different, and how does this service benefit students?

Clemenson: Let’s Talk offers free, brief, informal consultations with a CAPS therapist on a drop-in basis at five different locations around campus. Each site is staffed for two hours, Monday through Friday, during both regular semesters (excepting school holidays). Consultations are available on a first-come, first-served basis and do not require an appointment.  

The program is designed to increase ease of access for students who may not want counseling but would appreciate exploring solutions with a skilled professional.  

Let’s Talk differs from counseling in that it assists students with problems or concerns that have come up in the moment and can generally be readily resolved (e.g., difficulty with a roommate, relationship breakups, a need for help in how to talk to a professor or friend about a specific area of concern) as opposed to concerns related to interpersonal patterns that have developed over time and are perhaps causing significant difficulties in one or more domains in a student’s life.  

Ease of access and a more casual environment can often decrease anxiety in a student who may want support but does not need or want therapy. 

TC: Are there any new programs or initiatives this year that CAPS has planned to help students improve their mental health?

Clemenson: CAPS has just launched a new service model, which includes two new services. First, we are offering two psychoeducational Essential Skills Workshops, one focused on depression (“Getting Unstuck”) and one focused on anxiety (“Anxiety Toolbox”).  

Each workshop requires a commitment of one hour per week for three weeks and will be held multiple times throughout each semester. Students will learn about how anxiety and depression may complicate their lives and develop strategies to help them manage these concerns more effectively.

The second new service is Single Session Therapy. Many students present to CAPS with fairly specific issues and can get significant help from a single session focused on their concern. The counselor’s role is to help students build on their existing skills and strategies, help them look at the problem with greater perspective and introduce new ways of coping with the problem that can help them get “unstuck” and move on with their lives.

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